MRSA: Horses and Handlers Are Sharing More Than Quality Time

A recent study confirms that strains of the methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria in found in companion animals--including horses--resemble strains found in humans. According to Frances Moore, DVM, veterinary pathologist, and Sanjay Shukla, PhD, molecular microbiologist at Marshfield Labs and Marshfield Clinical Research Foundation in Marshfield, Wis., this means that horses and humans are likely sharing germs.

More so, Shukla says that the recent study presents detailed genetic characteristics of the MRSA bacteria they found in horses that typically have not been described by previous studies.

Researchers used a variety of samples from several different animals--including horses, dogs, cats, and pig--and from humans, noting whether they shared similar strains of resistant organisms.

Moore hypothesizes that humans were first infected with the MRSA bacteria and passed them on to their animal companions, rather than humans contracting the bacteria from their animals.

"There are strains of MRSA that seem adapted to horses and have been documented in a number of studies, particularly in horses receiving care at large veterinary clinics," Shukla said. "In these circumstances, the MRSA in horses appears to be shared (through) the horse handlers."

Shukla recommends that horse handlers--and not just those in a hospital environment--adhere to some basic guidelines to prevent the spread of MRSA,

  • Wash hands with soap and water after exposure to equine mucous membranes or body fluids--after administering oral dewormer, bridling, or cleaning a runny nose, for example;
  • Wear protective equipment (i.e., smock, face shield, and gloves) during procedures where the handler is likely to contact body fluids, such as with teeth floating or foaling assistance; and
  • Clean all shared equipment (blankets, buckets, feed tubs, etc.) after each use.

The study, "Evidence of multiple virulence subtypes in nosocomial and community-associated MRSA genotypes in companion animals from the upper Midwestern and Northeastern United States," was published in the journal in Clinical Medicine & Research and available online ahead of print at the Journal Web site. The abstract is also available on PubMed.

Disclaimer: Seek the advice of a qualified veterinarian before proceeding with any diagnosis, treatment, or therapy.

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