Therapy dogs can transfer MRSA and C. difficile among nursing home residents, researchers say

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A recent Canadian study finds that methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and C. difficile can be transferred between long-term care residents and therapy dogs, opening a new possible avenue for infection.

Researchers followed 26 therapy dog handler teams over the summer of 2007, 12 of which visited acute-care facilities and 14 of which visited long-term care facilities. Tests were conducted to ensure the cleanliness of both the animals and their owners and handlers before each visit. One dog, after "shaking hands" with patients at an acute-care facility, was found to have acquired C. difficile on its paws. Another dog, which had been kissed by a number of residents at a long-term care facility, had measurable levels of MRSA in its fur, according to study results.

Investigators also were tested after handling the animals post-visit. Handlers were found to have MRSA and C. difficile on their skin, suggesting the animals can retransmit the infections to humans, researchers say. To prevent the spread of such infections, researchers say handlers should follow hand sanitation guidelines and thoroughly wash their animals after each facility visit. Information about the study can be found in the Journal of Hospital Infection.
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