Page last updated at 23:01 GMT, Sunday, 21 June 2009 00:01 UK

MRSA risk from dog and cat bites

Pets can carry MRSA

Doctors treating dog and cat bites should be aware of the risks of MRSA infection, US researchers have warned.

In Lancet Infectious Diseases they reviewed existing evidence on infection risks from domestic animal bites.

They said that, as community-acquired MRSA becomes more prevalent, there is an increased chance of it being passed between humans and animals.

UK expert Professor Mark Enright said it was likely to be owners, and not their pets, who carried MRSA.

MRSA might be on a person's skin and, as they get bitten, it goes inside
Professor Mark Enright, Imperial College London

Each year, dog and cat bites comprise around 1% of accident and emergency visits in the US and Europe.

Around 60% of bites are from dogs, and 10-20% from cats.

Boys aged five to nine are most at risk of dog bites. Because of their height, children are usually bitten on the face, neck or head.

Cat bites are more common in women and the elderly. They usually cause deeper puncture wounds than dogs, and carry a higher risk of infection and soft-tissue abscesses.

Severe infections occur in about 20% of bite cases, and are caused by bacteria in the animal's mouth, plus other infectious agents from the person's skin. Sepsis can be a complication.

'Easily spread'

MRSA - Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus - is not a common strain of the bacteria in domestic animals, but it is being seen more and more.

Writing in the journal, the team led by Dr Richard Oehler, of the University of South Florida, said "As community-acquired strains of MRSA increase in prevalence, a growing body of clinical evidence has documented MRSA colonisation in domestic animals, often implying direct infection from their human owners.

Man with dog bite to face
This man received major injuries from a dog bite

"MRSA colonisation has been documented in companion animals such as horses, dogs, and cats and these animals have been viewed as potential reservoirs of infection.

"MRSA-related skin infections of pets seem to occur in various manifestations and can be easily spread to owners."

Any MRSA infection acquired from pets is treated with medication, in the same way as other MRSA infections.

Dr Oehler and his team added: "Pet owners are often unaware of the potential for transmission of life-threatening pathogens from their canine and feline companions.

"Clinicians must continue to promote loving pet ownership, take an adequate pet history, and be aware that associated diseases are preventable via recognition, education and simple precautions."

Professor Enright, who is based at Imperial College London, said: "MRSA might be on a person's skin and, as they get bitten, it goes inside.

"This is probably a marginal problem. It may be of more significance in the US where community-acquired MRSA is more of an issue."

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