Pets can infect owners with 'superbug'

Sunday, May 4th 2008, 9:07 pm
By: News 9

By Jennifer Pierce, NEWS 9

For many Americans, animals are more than just pets, they are a member of the family. For Kelsey Poe, her dog Luna is an invaluable part of her life.

"She's like our baby," she said. "She always lays down at the foot of our bed on the blanket, and that's where she falls asleep."

Poe said without Luna asleep on the bed with her, she can't sleep very well. But sharing a bed with Luna may mean sharing germs as well.

The Centers for Disease Control has confirmed that pets can harbor the bacteria MRSA, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. MRSA has received a good deal of attention lately as some strains have become resistant to a number of regularly used antibiotics, making the bacteria harder to cure if contracted -- a 'superbug.' Some veterinarians have noted that pet owners can become infected with MRSA after coming into contact with their infected pets.

"I've never ever worried about getting something from her, maybe a fleeting thought, but never enough to say she can't sleep with us or she can't sit next to us on the couch," said Poe. "It's never really occurred to me."

But as Dr. Tina Neel, a local veterinarian and owner of an Oklahoma City pet hospital, said dogs and cats can carry the bacteria without the owner ever knowing. And while Neel said "dogs tend not to be the source of the MRSA, the owners tend to be the source," experts still say pet owners can become infected with the bacteria if their pet has the bacteria. 

"What we're finding is that pets, if they are colonized or harboring the bacteria, have first gotten it from people in the house," said Kristy Bradley, epidemiologist. "But if they become infected or colonized, they can be part of that transmission cycle and for a short period of time, transmit that to people in the house."

Health officials said catching MRSA from your pet is not as common as catching some other diseases like hookworms, tapeworms or other intestinal parasites, but maintaining cleanliness is key.

"If you wanted to take all the precautions possible, you wouldn't let your pet sleep with you," said Neel. "This isn't a risk-free world and with everything you have to apply a level of common sense."