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Last Updated: Sunday, 14 December, 2003, 05:50 GMT
MRSA superbug 'carried by pets'
MRSA (pic courtesy of Pfizer)
MRSA is the subject of much newspaper coverage
Pets across the UK are carrying the antibiotic-resistant MRSA hospital "superbug", say experts.

A dozen animals were found to be positive for the deadly bacteria, the Health Protection Agency confirmed.

The discovery could mean it will be harder to control the spread of MRSA, which kills 5,000 patients a year.

But vets warned people not to be alarmed about the findings, pointing out that one in three people carry MRSA harmlessly anyway.

The disease can, however, prove fatal in babies, the elderly, those recovering from surgery or with a weakened immune system.

Cats, dogs and rabbits were found to be infected over the past year by HPA experts, The Observer says.

Spokeswoman Angela Kearns told the paper: "We have observed MRSA in some domestic animals. We confirmed this in our laboratories.

"The cases came from across Britain so we know it's not one particular cluster.

"We need to know if there is a lot of it out there, what are the risks?

"We don't know yet whether animals have acquired infection from humans or vice versa.

"There really is a big question over the whole area."

Some of the strains of bacteria found were similar to those found in humans, but some were not similar, another HPA spokeswoman added.

MRSA is associated with hospitals because of the large number of patients who are vulnerable to the disease in close proximity.

The bacteria in the animals were noticed by the British Veterinary Association.

Spokesman Dr Alistair Gibson told The Observer: "We don't want to see a massive scare that will make people get rid of their pets.

"What we need is for research to be done into this. Meanwhile, owners should take a sensible approach, wash their hands regularly and not panic."

'Superbug' closes hospital wards
10 Dec 03  |  South East Wales
"Superbug" crackdown is launched
05 Dec 03  |  Health
Q&A: MRSA 'superbugs'
13 Dec 02  |  Health

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