Antimicrobial selective pressure in pet-owning healthcare workers
- Royal Veterinary College, Hawkshead Lane, North Mymms, Hertfordshire AL9 7TA
- School of Veterinary Science, University of Liverpool, Leahurst Campus, Chester High Road, Neston, Cheshire CH64 7TE
- Department of Pathobiology and Centre for Public Health and Zoonoses, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, N1G 2W1, Canada
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THE European Antibiotic Awareness Day in November 2011 made it clear that multidrug-resistant bacteria are of increasing concern in both human and veterinary medicine. The One Health Initiative has stressed the importance of identifying risks for transmission of such organisms between people and animals (www.onehealthinitiative.com/mission.php). Meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is a particular concern, as MRSA isolates from dogs and cats are nearly always epidemic human hospital-associated lineages. Transmission between humans and animals, furthermore, readily occurs even among healthy individuals (Loeffler and Lloyd 2010).
This letter reports the results from a recent online survey of dog ownership and antibiotic use among UK NHS staff carried out by YouGov (http://research.yougov.co.uk) on behalf of the Bella Moss Foundation (www.thebellamossfoundation.com) in July 2011. A total of 686 interviews were conducted with staff across all NHS professions from a panel commissioned to undertake research with YouGov.
The survey revealed that 24 per cent of all NHS staff and 28 per cent of nurses and clinical support staff own a dog. Just under half of dog owners either kissed (47 per cent) or were licked by (45 per cent) their dogs at least once a week. In addition, 15 per cent of owners had given their dog at least one course of antibiotics in the previous year.
In 2010 the NHS had 1.4 million employees. Extrapolating these results indicates that 336,000 NHS workers own a dog and that over 50,000 gave antibiotics to their dogs at least once in the previous year.
It is well recognised in both humans and animals that antimicrobial use is a risk factor for carriage or infection with multidrug-resistant bacteria such as MRSA, Clostridium difficile or Escherichia coli (Clooten and others 2008, Soares-Magalhães and others 2010). In addition, interaction of owners and veterinary staff with healthcare facilities increases their risk of acquiring such bacteria, and this is particularly relevant for veterinary staff when zoonotic pathogens such as MRSA are involved.
These survey data highlight the opportunity for transmission of multidrug-resistant bacteria between healthcare workers and their pets. Such risks can be reduced by responsible use of antimicrobials and implementation of effective hygiene strategies. However, risk reduction against zoonotic pathogens will be most effective if selective pressure is reduced jointly in both host populations through collaborative strategies between the medical and veterinary professions.
The authors thank Michael Wagstaff at YouGov for the collection and preparation of the data.
- British Veterinary Association