Meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) nasal carriage on admission to hospital remains one of the most important risk factors for subsequent infection. Identification of high risk groups for MRSA carriage is vital for the success of infection control programmes. Veterinary staff may be one such risk group but little is known about pet owners and the role of contact with infected pets. As part of a UK-wide case-control study investigating risk factors for MRSA infection in dogs and cats between 2005 and 2008, 608 veterinary staff and pet owners in contact with 106 MRSA and 91 meticillin-susceptible S. aureus (MSSA)-infected pets were screened for S. aureus nasal carriage. Laboratory isolation and characterisation included salt broth enrichment, standard and automated microbiological tests, demonstration of the S. aureus-specific thermonuclease gene (nuc) and of mecA, and polymerase chain reaction-based lineage characterisation. MRSA carriage was 12.3% in veterinarians attending MRSA-infected animals and 7.5% in their owners. In the MSSA control group, MRSA carriage was 4.8% in veterinary staff and 0% in owners. Veterinary staff carried MRSA more frequently than owners (odds ratio: 2.33; 95% confidence interval: 1.10-4.93). All MRSA from humans and all but one animal MRSA were CC22 or CC30, typical for hospital MRSA in the UK. This study indicates for the first time an occupational risk for MRSA carriage in small animal general practitioners. Veterinary staff and owners of MRSA-infected pets are high risk groups for MRSA carriage despite not having direct hospital links. Strategies to break the cycle of MRSA infection must take these potential new reservoirs into account.
Copyright 2009 The Hospital Infection Society. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.