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Any bacterium with a tongue-twister name like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus — a.k.a. MRSA — must be serious, right?
Well, it can be.
In humans, MRSA infections can even be life-threatening. And while these infections aren't as common in pets, they can still cause serious illness in dogs, cats and other animals.
Healthy people commonly carry Staphylococcus aureus on their skin and in their noses. If the bacteria enter the body through a cut or scrape, it can lead to a skin or soft tissue infection.
Treatment with a class of antibiotics called beta-lactams usually does the trick. However, if these bacteria become resistant to methicillin (a type of beta-lactam), other antibiotics — such as penicillin and amoxicillin — usually won’t work either.
If this happens, it could be necessary to use another antibiotic that may not be as effective, comes with more side effects and can be more expensive.
MRSA infections are not as common in dogs and cats. While MRSA is a major issue in human health, dogs are more likely to be affected by a different bacterial strain called methicillin-resistant staphylococcus pseudointermedius or MRSP. These infections usually infect canines through skin wounds, surgical sites and ears — and like MRSA, they are difficult to treat.
Although the precise behavior of these bacteria is still unknown, it has been suggested that MRSP shows a preference for living on pets, but animals colonized with MRSA will often clear the bacteria on their own within a few weeks. In the same way, MRSP appears to be poorly adapted to humans.
People can acquire MRSA from pets — and vice versa. Humans commonly contract MRSA in hospital settings, but they can also become infected in the greater community if they come in direct contact with a person, pet or object contaminated with MRSA. But while pets can transmit MRSA to humans, their role is thought to be relatively minor.
For pets with active MRSA infections, the bacteria can be transmitted to humans either by direct contact with the infected area or contaminated items, such as bedding. A colonized animal often carries the bacteria around the nose and anus, so people should be vigilant about washing and sanitizing their hands after touching pets or picking up feces.
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