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MRSA in pets - New charity to force changes

A NEW charity is due to be launched next month to halt the growing tide in cases of MRSA in pets – a fact which, hitherto, has not been acknowledged by the veterinary profession.

Last year, OUR DOGS reported on the shocking evidence that the MRSA ‘superbug’ that kills over 5,000 patients a year in British hospitals, due to lack of basic hygiene is now killing pets in the same way – and vets are being urged to clean up their surgeries and operating theatres after a heartbroken dog owner saw her beloved 10 year-old Samoyed die of infection from the deadly bacteria last summer.

Bella, a ten-year-old Samoyed dog – KC registered name Priscilla Princess - is believed to be one of the first recorded cases of a dog dying of MRSA in the UK. Her owner, actress Jill Moss, 34, of Edgware, north London is now launching a campaign to educate pet owners and vets about the risks to animals.

MRSA - Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus -, sometimes referred to in the media as the ‘Superbug’, kills around 5,000 human patients a year. It affects both humans and animals. MRSA is a bacterium that, under normal conditions, is relatively harmless. Every human being lives with different kinds of bacteria (Staphylococcus included) in our bodies and on our skin without harmful effects, but problems can occur when they get into the blood stream or tissue through a cut or broken skin, particularly if an individual’s immune system is weakened. MRSA can be so difficult to treat that in some cases it is fatal.

Experts believe the spread of MRSA to animals is of concern, and are demanding more research into the risks, but have also stressed that the chances of the bug transferring to humans is small.

David Lloyd, professor of dermatology at the Royal Veterinary College, North Mymms, first documented MRSA in small animals in 1999 and researched the risks involved when the first case of MRSA among dogs was recorded. Eleven dogs were diagnosed, although none died.

"MRSA has been building up gradually in the animal population," he said. "Although we have warned about it for some years, it was only recently people started to listen.

"We want to determine the risks of MRSA transmission and infection amongst owners and pets. At present we believe there is a small risk that dogs carrying MRSA could pass it on to their owners but it is unlikely that MRSA can sustain itself in healthy dogs and cats as it does in humans.

"If you have a weak immune system and the dog has MRSA there could be transfer, but this is rare. The bigger risk is that the human MRSA carrier will transfer MRSA to a sick pet."

Unlike one in three humans, animals do not normally carry the staphylococcus aureus (SA) bacteria which, when resistant to antibiotic treatment, is called MRSA.

Jill Moss believes that Bella may have picked up the infection while undergoing surgery for a routine knee operation, although the veterinary surgery in question denies this. She is now calling for tighter guidelines for veterinary practices, including better hygiene practices.

Awareness

Since this story was first reported, Jill Moss has worked tirelessly on raising awareness of MRSA in pets established a website dedicated to Bella and publicising her ongoing quest to see better hygiene in the veterinary profession. The website is now one of the most visited in the UK and has gained the attention of the world’s media. Evidence has come to light of another dog contracting MRSA under similar circumstances although the dog’s owner wishes to remain anonymous at this stage.

Jill has recently been invited to attend meetings at both the British Small Animals Veterinary Association and the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, but confesses to being frustrated at the veterinary authorities’ lack of direct action.

Next month, backed up with sponsorship from a large Manchester-based company, Jill will be launching the Bella Moss Foundation, a new charity dedicated to investigating the link between zoonotic diseases – those that can transfer between humans and animals – including MRSA. The charity aims to stage a conference in the UK later this year at which veterinary experts will discuss this matter.

"We also aim to establish a veterinary clinic facility for animals infected with MRSA and other zoonotic diseases," says Jill. "I don’t feel that the veterinary profession is taking this matter seriously, but there are vets out there who want to do something positive about it. Hopefully, through the Bella Moss foundation, we can all do something positive and help animals. No other animal should suffer in the way that Bella did. If we can spare other animals the pain and suffering she went through in her last hours, then her death will not have been in vain."

Jill Moss has listed several key points that have arisen from her experience, and feels that all of them need addressing further by the veterinary profession:

Poor care is un-addressed outside of the civil courts. Even an organisation the size of her veterinary hospital has no formal complaints procedure. Why?

Most of the ‘nurses’ working at the veterinary hospital in Hendon were, according to Ms Moss, untrained. In human health care, the title of ‘nurse’ cannot be used until an individual is registered with the Nurses’ and Midwives’ Council. Why does the regulating body of Veterinary Nurses allow untrained people to be called ‘veterinary nurse’?

The veterinary hospital has not been able to produce any policy or procedure that guides its staff in infection control or the care of seriously infected animals. Can it ever be acceptable for a veterinary hospital to not have written guidelines on infection control?

The BSAVA British Small Animal Veterinary Association has produced guidelines on infection control, but these are voluntary. The veterinary hospital is not approved by the BSAVA, although ‘approved’ status is voluntary. Is there not a case for the regulatory body or DEFRA to enforce compulsory standards of infection control?

The Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons only considers allegations of professional misconduct. It will not consider allegations of neglect on the part of a vet. Although the Government is considering changes to the 1966 Act, shouldn’t there be an independent ombudsman to evaluate and act upon complaints against vets?