Dogs rule, and other infection control guidance for animal visits to hospitals

The Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America has released new expert guidance on developing policies for animal visits to healthcare facilities, including service animals, pet therapy or personal pet visits. One common thread: only dogs (and miniature horses) to visit patients.

While animals have become more present in hospitals in recent years, their role in disease transmission in hospitals is largely unknown, according to SHEA experts.

"While there may be benefits to patient care, the role of animals in the spread of bacteria is not well understood," said David Weber, MD, the lead author of the recommendations. "We have developed standard infection prevention and control guidance to help protect patients and healthcare providers via animal-to-human transmission in healthcare settings."

The experts developed recommendations based on available evidence, practical considerations and from a survey of SHEA members. They broke down the recommendations into groups by role of the animal, like pet therapy, service animals and personal pet visitation.

Some highlights of the recommendations are listed below by group.

Pet therapy and volunteer program guidance

  • Develop a written policy for animal-assisted activities and designate a liaison for such activities.
  • Allow only dogs to serve in animal-assisted activities.
  • Make sure all animal handlers have all required immunizations.
  • Require everyone who handles the animal to perform hand hygiene before and after contact.
  • Do not allow animals to come in contact with invasive devices.

Service animals

  • Make sure hospital policy is compliant with the Federal Americans for Disability Act, and include a statement that only dogs and miniature horses are recognized as service animals under federal law.
  • Notify the infection control team if an inpatient has a service animal and discuss institutional policies with the patient.

Personal pet visitation

  • Generally, do not allow pets to enter the facility.
  • Consider exceptions if the team determines a visit could benefit the patient and happen with limited risk. Even then, restrict visitation to only dogs.

The guidance from SHEA was also endorsed by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology. See the full guidance here.

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