A pet's bite can transmit methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) to humans, and such infections are on the rise, a new study has shown.
The most common are infections of the skin, soft-tissue and surgical infections, said the study conducted by researchers at the University of South Florida College of Medicine in Tampa.
Dog and cat bites account for about one percent of emergency department visits each year in the United States and Europe, according to study findings published by Health Day News on Monday.
Severe infections occur in about 20 percent of all cases and are caused by bacteria from the animal's mouth, plus possibly other bacteria from the human patient's skin, the researchers said in the study which was based on a review of clinical evidence.
The study will also be published in the July issue of The Lancet Infectious Diseases.
"Pet owners are often unaware of the potential for transmission of life-threatening pathogens from their canine and feline companions," Dr. Richard Oehler and his colleagues wrote in the study.
Sepsis, a bloodstream infection, can be a severe complication of bite wounds infected with MRSA and a number of other types of bacteria, the researchers noted.
Increasing prevalence of community-acquired MRSA in humans has been accompanied by MRSA colonization in domestic animals such as dogs, cats and horses. This makes the animals potential reservoirs of MRSA infection. And MRSA-related skin infections in pets, such as simple dermatitis, can easily spread to humans, according to the study.
Treatment of MRSA infections in pets is similar to that used in humans, said the researchers, who added that much more research needs to be done on MRSA pet-human infections.
"Bite injuries are a major cause of injury in the USA and Europe each year, particularly in children. Bites to the hands, forearms, neck and head have the potential for the highest morbidity," the study said.
"Health care providers are at the forefront of protecting the vital relationships between people and their pets," the study concluded. "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."