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Pet Dogs And Cats Pass Drug-Resistant Infections To Humans, Experts Warn

Health officials in the United Kingdom cautioned the public, especially pet owners, to be more careful in their antibiotic use as cats and dogs can transmit drug-resistant infections to anyone. The bid follows a warning from the World Health Organization (WHO) that antibiotic-resistance levels are becoming dangerously high worldwide.

Public Health England (PHE) warned that drug-resistant superbugs such as E. coli and Methicillin-resistant Staph aureus (MRSA) can be spread between animals and humans. Some forms of these bacteria are found in about one in three healthy dogs, they said.

The use of antibiotics among animals may be prompting the spread of antibiotic-resistant infections, experts said. A notice has been issued in the UK for pet owners to not put pressure on veterinarians to administer antibiotics, and to make sure that their pets complete prescribed drug doses.

Previous studies showed that about 40 percent of healthy dogs carry multi-antibiotic resistant strains, a higher proportion than seen in humans. Other international studies say the spread occurs from owner to pet, not pet to owner.

Experts said that MRSA normally does not cause any illness, unless the pet or the person with the infection becomes sick or injured. Staph aureus becomes opportunistic and triggers an infection, they said.

MRSA infections in dogs affect the skin and other soft tissues, leading to skin infections and abscesses. Some of the symptoms include fever, discharge from a wound, skin swelling, skin lesions and the body becoming slower in healing wounds.

Meanwhile, the WHO revealed [pdf] that people do not know much about the threats that antibiotic resistance and abuse pose to public health. The organization surveyed 12 countries and found that most people do not understand how to stop antibiotic resistance from growing.

The WHO said antibiotic resistance is recognized as a global health crisis. Levels of antibiotic resistance are dangerously high worldwide.

"Antibiotic resistance is compromising our ability to treat infectious diseases and undermining many advances in medicine," said WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan.

UK Health officials said it was important that people were aware of how transmission of superbugs occurred and how to minimize risk. Pet owners need to take care of their own hygiene by washing their hands before and after dealing with pets, they said.

"We all have a responsibility as patients and animal owners to use antibiotics correctly so they remain effective in keeping us and our animals healthy," said Professor Pete Borriello of the Veterinary Medicines Directorate.

Photo: Eli Duke | Flickr

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