Drug-resistant bugs in animal hospital put owners at risk

By Henry Bodkin, Health Correspondent

PETS in an animal hospital have been found to be harbouring potentially lethal drug-resistant bugs that could be transferred to owners.

Tests by Public Health England (PHE) revealed three cats and a dog were colonised by bacteria able to fend off linezolid, a “last-resort” antibiotic used to treat superbugs such as MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus).

No staff or owners are known to have been taken ill as a result. However, the agency warned veterinary surgeries to enforce proper cleaning practices after the first discovery of its kind.

Experts said it implied that resistance to one of a shrinking number of last-resort antibiotics can spread between different bacterial populations in animals and humans.

Dr Katie Hopkins, from PHE, who led the research, said: “This is concerning as transmission of this organism to owners carries the potential for spread to other bacteria. This may lead to difficult-to-treat infections.

“To minimise transmission of resistant bacteria between companion animals and people, veterinary surgeries need to ensure adequate cleaning takes place and pet owners should wash their hands after handling pets.”

The gene that enables bacterial resistance to linezolid is known as optrA.

Dr Hopkins said it was thought to be the first time optrA-positive enterococci had been identified in pets in the UK.

She added: “Our findings further the view that antibiotic-resistant bacteria can be shared by animals and humans, although the direction of transfer is often difficult to prove.”

Grahame White