A Letter was just published in the New England Journal of Medicine about a woman with recurrent methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) infections and her cat. MRSA is a hot topic because it’s a big cause of disease in people and there are indications that it can be transmitted between people and pets (in both directions). She kept getting recurrent infections and they eventually cultured MRSA from her cat. The cat was not sick and was a carrier. That’s something that we’re seeing increasingly, although we don’t know whether the pets are actually involved in transmission or whether they are innocent bystanders that are infected by their owners. The concerns that I had with this Letter revolve around the fact that the cat was treated for MRSA (in my experience, carriage of MRSA by dogs and cats is transient and antibiotics aren’t needed), they never tested the cat after treatment but they declare that the woman’s infections only ceased after the cat was treated. The problem is, the cat may have gotten rid of MRSA despite the antibiotic treatment, the owner may have handled the cat differently after finding out it was MRSA positive and therefore decreased the risk of transmission, or it may never have played a role in her infections.

Unfortunately, this Letter may lead to unnecessary treatment of pets that carry MRSA or over-assumption of the role of pets in human infections. It also meant that I was stuck doing rounds and rounds of interviews with reporters wanting comments. The key take-home messages from this are:

Pets are part of the household and should be considered if a household disease investigation is undertaken.
– While pets may sometimes be involved in transmission of MRSA, simply finding MRSA in a pet does not mean that it has infected anyone.
– There is currently no indication that we should be using antibiotics to get rid of MRSA colonization in pets because they almost invariably get rid of it on their own.