THER­APY DOGS CAN SPREAD SUPERBUGS

Wash­ing ca­nines, us­ing wipes elim­i­nates risk in hos­pi­tals: study

Regina Leader-Post - - WEEKEND - MIKE STO­BBE

NEW YORK Ther­apy dogs can bring more than joy and com­fort to hos­pi­tal­ized kids. They can also bring stub­born germs.

Doc­tors at Johns Hop­kins Hospi­tal in Bal­ti­more were sus­pi­cious that the dogs might pose an in­fec­tion risk to pa­tients with weak­ened im­mune sys­tems. So they con­ducted some tests when Pippi, Poppy, Bad­ger and Win­nie vis­ited 45 chil­dren get­ting can­cer treat­ment.

They dis­cov­ered that kids who spent more time with the dogs had a six times greater chance of com­ing away with su­per­bug bac­te­ria than kids who spent less time with the an­i­mals. But the study also found that wash­ing the dogs be­fore vis­its and us­ing spe­cial wipes while they’re in the hospi­tal elim­i­nated the risk.

The re­sults of the un­pub­lished study were re­leased at a re­cent sci­en­tific meet­ing in San Fran­cisco.

One U.S. health of­fi­cial said the find­ings add to the grow­ing un­der­stand­ing that while in­ter­ac­tions with pets and ther­apy an­i­mals can be ben­e­fi­cial, they can also carry risk.

“Whether cov­ered in fur, feath­ers or scales, an­i­mals have the po­ten­tial to carry germs that make peo­ple sick,” said Casey Bar­ton Behravesh of the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion.

Pet ther­apy can help peo­ple re­cover from a range of health prob­lems. Past stud­ies have shown dogs or other an­i­mals can ease anx­i­ety and sad­ness, lower blood pres­sure and even re­duce the amount of med­i­ca­tions some pa­tients need.

Whether cov­ered in fur, feath­ers or scales, an­i­mals have the po­ten­tial to carry germs that­make peo­ple sick.

But there have been episodes of the su­per­bug MRSA rid­ing around on healthy-look­ing ther­apy dogs.

MRSA, or me­thi­cillin-re­sis­tant Sta­phy­lo­coc­cus au­reus bac­te­ria, of­ten live on the skin with­out caus­ing symp­toms. But they can be­come more dan­ger­ous if they en­ter the blood­stream, de­stroy­ing heart valves or caus­ing other dam­age. Health of­fi­cials have tied MRSA to as many as 11,000 U.S. deaths a year.

The bac­te­ria can spread in day­cares, locker rooms and mil­i­tary bar­racks, but pub­lic health ef­forts have fo­cused on hos­pi­tals and nurs­ing homes.

The Bal­ti­more study looked at 45 chil­dren who in­ter­acted with the four dogs — pet­ting, hug­ging, feed­ing or play­ing with them — over 13 vis­its in 2016 and 2017.

Among kids who had no MRSA, the re­searchers found the su­per­bug on about 10 per cent of the sam­ples taken from those kids af­ter the dog vis­its. They also found MRSA on nearly 40 per cent of the sam­ples from the dogs. The re­searchers also de­ter­mined that the more time some­one spent with the an­i­mals, the greater the chance of end­ing up with the bac­te­ria.

The re­searchers think the dogs were gen­er­ally clean of MRSA when they first came to the hospi­tal, but picked it up from pa­tients or oth­ers while they were there, said one of the au­thors, Meghan Davis.

“Our hy­poth­e­sis is it’s re­ally per­son-to-per­son transmission, but it hap­pened through contact with the fur,” said Davis, a Johns Hop­kins pub­lic health re­searcher and vet­eri­nar­ian.

Un­der hospi­tal pro­to­cols, ther­apy dogs must be bathed within a day of a visit and are checked for wounds or other health prob­lems. Chil­dren who see them are sup­posed to use hand san­i­tizer “but that wasn’t strictly en­forced,” said Kathryn Dal­ton, an­other one of the re­searchers.

Later in the study, the re­searchers asked the dogs’ own­ers to bathe the an­i­mals with a spe­cial sham­poo be­fore the vis­its. They also had the dogs pat­ted down ev­ery five to 10 min­utes with dis­in­fect­ing wipes at the hospi­tal.

Those steps dra­mat­i­cally de­creased the bac­te­ria level on the dogs, Dal­ton said.

MEGHAN DAVIS/JOHNS HOP­KINS UNIVER­SITY VIA AP

Ther­apy dog Win­nie was among the dogs tested for car­ry­ing superbugs at Johns Hop­kins Hospi­tal in Bal­ti­more, Md.

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