Therapy dogs may spread MRSA to pediatric patients, Johns Hopkins study finds

Therapy dogs may serve as a mechanical vector for hospital-associated infections, according to research from Baltimore-based Johns Hopkins Medicine presented at ID Week 2018 in San Francisco.

For the pilot study, Johns Hopkins researchers examined HAI transmission among therapy dogs, pediatric oncology patients and the hospital environment. Researchers took samples from 45 patients and four therapy dogs over 13 visits both before and after the children interacted with the dogs.

The therapy dogs' handlers conducted typical pre-visit practices for two control visits and performed a decolonization protocol for two intervention visits. The protocol included washing dogs in a chlorhexidine-based shampoo before the visit and using chlorhexidine wipes on their fur during the visit.

Researchers identified Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus in about 10.2 percent of samples from children and 38.5 percent of samples from dogs. About 93 percent of environmental samples came back positive for MRSA both pre- and post-therapy dog visit. Patients who interacted with a therapy dog were about eight times more likely to demonstrate MRSA conversion, compared to children who had little interaction with the animals.

"A risk of HAI exposure to patients from interaction with the dog was found, but this effect was nullified by the decolonization procedure," researchers wrote in a study abstract emailed to Becker's. "Future research is needed to increase the safety of this valuable alternative therapy."

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