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Therapy Dogs Can Transmit Superbugs To Young Patients, But It Can Be Prevented: Study

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Therapy dogs are easygoing, have stable temperaments, and are well suited for hospitals, schools, and the like. A new study finds that such dogs may pass superbugs onto young cancer patients, but a simple washing beforehand can prevent it.   ( Tom and Nicki Löschner | Pixabay )

A new study finds that therapy dogs can actually pass superbugs onto young patients. The transmission can be stopped with a simple antibiotic wash before the visit, but it may have potential risks for antibiotic resistance.

MRSA In Therapy Dogs

Researchers of a new study looked at the safety of therapy dog visits to young patients and found that the furry visitors tend to transmit superbugs onto young children, particularly cancer patients. In the study, the researchers looked at 45 child and young adult cancer patients between the ages of two and 20 as well as four therapy dogs. The patients who already had methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) were not included in the study.

Researchers then followed 13 therapy sessions in total. In six of which, the dogs were washed with a shampoo with antiseptic chlorhexidine before the visit and wiped with wipes containing chlorhexidine every 5 to 10 minutes during the visit, and in seven therapy sessions, the dogs simply followed their usual procedures before and during the visit, in that they were not treated with any chlorhexidine antiseptics before or during the sessions.

When the dogs simply followed their usual procedures, 15 percent or four patients contracted MRSA, and so did three of the dogs. On the other hand, when the dogs were cleaned with chlorhexidine antiseptics, only one patient contracted MRSA, and likely not as a result of the dogs’ visit but of an interaction with an infected surface or patient.

Patient And Dog Protection

The study is a first of its kind, and it is quite important to the safety of the patients especially since cancer patients are more susceptible to developing MRSA infection because of their compromised immune systems. As for the dogs, they tend to go around, visiting many patients throughout the hospital and even moving from one hospital to another, making them inadvertent carriers of superbugs such as MRSA.

According to researchers, the dogs did not mind the antiseptic cleaning as it was simply like getting pet. However, as successful as the antiseptic cleaning appears to lessen the transmission, there is concern over whether the frequent use of antiseptics could lead to eventual resistance.

The findings were presented at IDWeek, a meeting focused on infectious diseases.

Therapy Dogs

Therapy dogs’ responsibilities are to provide physiological and psychological therapy to people other than their own handlers. These people could be patients in a hospital, residents of a nursing home, or even students in a school. These dogs are easygoing, friendly, and have stable temperaments.

They are different from service dogs in that service dogs are trained specifically to perform tasks to ease their handlers’ disabilities. And unlike therapy dogs that may be held or pet, many service dogs have a “no petting” policy to keep them from making mistakes.

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