Therapy Dogs May Fetch Hospital Germs
May 11, 2009, 1:12 PM
Therapy Dogs May Fetch Hospital GermsBy TARA PARKER-POPE
A new study of pet therapy dogs shows just how easily hospital germs can be transmitted to visitors.
Canadian researchers studied 26 therapy dogs who visited patients in hospitals or long-term care facilities. Before and after each visit, a dog’s forepaws and the hands of its handler were tested for three bacteria that commonly cause hospital infections — Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), vancomycin-resistant enterococci and Clostridium difficile. To detect whether a dog was carrying germs on its fur, the researcher also sanitized her hands, petted the dog and had her hands tested for the pathogens.
None of the dog paws, handlers or the researcher tested positive for the bacteria before the hospital visits. But after the hospital visits, two of the dogs were contaminated. One dog, a greyhound, had C. difficile on its paws. Another dog, a pug, appeared to pick up MRSA on its fur. (MRSA was found on the hands of the investigator after she petted the dog upon its return.)
So how did the dogs end up as carriers of the risky germs? The dog with C. difficile had shaken paws with several patients. The pug with MRSA on its fur had spent time in patients’ beds and was kissed repeatedly by two patients. The findings were reported in a letter published in The Journal of Hospital Infection.
The study shows how easily germs can travel in and out of health care settings and the importance of vigilant hand washing. Compared to human visitors, animals typically visit a larger number of patients and staff members and walk bare-pawed on hospital corridors, possibly making them more likely to pick up germs. However, countless numbers of people who visit hospitals regularly shake hands, hug and kiss, and sit on hospital beds in patients’ rooms.
“It’s unrealistic to think that we can sanitize an animal visitor’s body between patients,” said investigator Sandra Lefebvre of the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College. “But we can and do ask human visitors to sanitize their hands so they don’t spread germs.”