Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Alert! Horsepeople at risk for MRSA

I recently read an article (MRSA More Common in Horse People) in The Horse magazine. Drug-resistant infections will certainly ruin your day, so if you aren't already in the know, here's the scoop. At the annual 2008 AAEP conference, a researcher reported that MRSA is up to ten times more common in equine veterinarians than in the general population. While most animals don't transmit MRSA to other species, horses are an unhappy exception. The ST398 form of MRSA is found in horses, and it seems to readily cross species barriers, including horse to human transmission.

Vets seem to be more at risk than the general population of horsemen and women because they deal with a lot more sick horses, and especially horses diagnosed with MRSA. It is this exposure to MRSA in horses that predisposes them to MRSA colonization and infection.

What is colonization?
The article refers to MRSA colonization, which is the presence of the bacteria without the clinical symptoms; colonization is NOT the same as an infection. A MRSA infection is the presence of the bacteria AND clinical symptoms, which is obviously more serious. The studies reported in The Horse are talking about the high incidence of MRSA colonization in vets.

What's it mean to those of us around horses?
Our MRSA risks are likely not as high as vets, simply because we don't usually find ourselves around a lot of sick horses. But here are a few precautions for horses and humans: are a good idea:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water when handling an animal with an infected wound, boil, or sore.
  • Studies show that alcohol-based hand sanitizers are very effective, but they're most effective when applied to relatively clean hands.
  • Be alert to MRSA like symptoms -- pneumonia, skin or soft tissue infection (especially the limbs), catheter site infections, etc. If a problem seems unusually persistent or severe, call the vet. If you note it in someone else's horse, encourage the barn manager or the owner to call a vet (yes, be a buttinsky!).
  • Bandage wounds and avoid contact with animal/people wounds
  • Don't share horse or human personal items (clippers, hoof picks, etc)

Twenty percent of horses diagnosed with MRSA infections die, and I don't know the mortality rate for humans. A good reason to be vigilant!

Good Hygiene blocks horse-human MRSA transmission in The Horse magazine

MRSA is a growing problem in horses from New Zealand Horse Talk

MRSA and horses: What you need to know from U of Florida Veterinary School

MRSA strains in horses from MRSA blog

MRSA infections in horses from Equidblog

MRSA and horses from the University of Liverpool


  1. Haha! I am a nurse and have a horse so I am probably SOOO colonized! I always joke that if the hospital swabbed all of the healthcare workers they'd have to shut the doors! Interesting article.

  2. Thanks for this article. I am currently taking an animal disease and zoonoses class and it is chilling to read about all of the ways that you can get sick and die. What is interesting about staph is that 1 in 3 (correct me if I am wrong) people have cultures of staph just hanging out. The problem arises when someone becomes immuno- supressed and the bacteria can spread. And then the bigger problem arises when somebody takes antibiotics but doesn't finish their schedule so the last little bugs that don't get killed are now resistant to that drug. I think that it is important that horse owners realize that this is important for our horses too, even though it can be a huge pain giving your horse his medication those last few days.

  3. Very scary. I am unfortunately very susceptible to bacterial infections (have spent time in the hospital as a result) and now will need to be even more careful!

  4. I read that article. Makes me far more conscious of taking care when dealing with injuries to my Boys.

    One more thing to think about.


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