There's been a lot of talk (hype) in the press about pet bites and MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus). This relates to a paper in Lancet Infectious Diseases regarding infections associated with pet bites. Some press articles are more sensational than others, but most are taking the bite infection paper and building in unrelated comments about MRSA in animals to make it seem like there's a major MRSA dog bite epidemic underway.
I realize that MRSA is a hot topic that is easy for reporters to latch onto, but the problem is that the actual research related to MRSA is being taken out of context (and blown out of proportion). MRSA was certainly mentioned in the paper, but it was not the focus of the research nor do the authors play up concerns about pets as a source of MRSA infections. Nevertheless, the impression people are getting from many news articles is that there is rampant MRSA transmission by infected pets.
Is MRSA infection a potential concern after a dog bite?
- Yes, but more because of the bite itself than the particular dog. MRSA infections that occur after a dog bite are probably the result of contamination of the wound with MRSA from the person's own nose or from another person, for example during a visit to their physician/clinic/hospital. It's possible for MRSA to be in the mouth of the dog and for it to be transferred to the wound during the bite, but that's pretty unlikely. The person bitten or someone treating the wound is a more likely source of the bacterium. So, the bite was the ultimate "cause" of the MRSA infection, because the infection probably wouldn't have developed without that break to the body's normal defensive barriers (i.e. the skin), however the "source" of the infection was (in most cases) NOT the animal. The same kind of infection could have happened with any similar type of trauma.
What should I do if I'm worried about MRSA and dog bites?
- Worry more about dog bites than MRSA. Bites themselves are major problems, even if MRSA is not involved. The degree of trauma can be significant, and a variety of bacteria can cause serious bite infections, not just MRSA.
- Take measures to reduce the risk of being bitten, both in terms of how you handle and train your dog and how you interact with other dogs.
- If you are bitten, immediately clean the wound as thoroughly as possible. If the bite is over a joint, tendon (e.g. wrist/ankle), prosthesis or genitals, if there is significant trauma or if you have a weakened immune system, you need to see a physician. If you have any other concerns, get examined by a physician promptly.
More information on MRSA in animals can be found on the Worms & Germs Resources page.