Can Cats Transmit the MRSA Infection?

by Quentin Coleman, Demand Media
    MRSA is a major health concern for children and pregnant women.

    MRSA is a major health concern for children and pregnant women.

    Medical technology is always advancing, but so are germs. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, commonly called MRSA, "murza" or "mursa," is a prime example of this unfortunate principle. This strain of bacteria is particularly concerning for pet owners, because it can transfer to people from dogs and cats. Luckily, the disease rarely jumps from animals to humans.

    Origin of MRSA

    Staphylococcus aureus is a common bacteria that lives on the skin of most humans. Health adults rarely get infected by the disease because their immune systems fight it off, according to Texas A&M University Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. Since the bacteria is so prevalent, it's frequently exposed to medicine that people take for other infections. This constant exposure helps populations of bacteria evolve defenses against antibiotics. Normal infections of the staph bacteria are completely eliminated with medication, but methicillin-resistant strains are unaffected by conventional treatment. The symptoms, transmission and cause of MRSA are identical to those of ordinary Staphylococcus aureus bacteria.

    Health Risk

    Despite its abundant presence, MRSA isn't a worldwide epidemic. It is a widespread and dangerous disease, but healthy adults are resistant to it. People with weak immune systems can get really sick, though. Cats can become infected by MRSA, too, but most only carry the disease and show no symptoms, according to the Iowa State University Center for Food Security and Public Health.

    Transmission

    You have a higher chance of contracting a resistant strain of MRSA in your community than you do from your cat, according to the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine website. Cats don't naturally carry Staphylococcus aureus on their skin, but they can pick it up from people or their environment. You can catch MRSA from your kitty by touching his skin, but the bacteria doesn't make the jump readily. Prolonged or frequent exposure increases your risk of catching it. Similarly, cats can spread MRSA to other animals after frequent or prolonged contact.

    Prevention

    If a child or immune-compromised individual lives in your home, take a few basic steps to reduce the risk of MRSA transmission. Those at risk should wash their hands frequently throughout the day and always wash up after touching the cat. Even healthy adults should cover open wounds with sterile bandages to be on the safe side. Vets can test for the presence of MRSA on your cat's skin by taking a small sample and ordering a lab test.

    About the Author

    Quentin Coleman has written for several news publications as well as the University of Delaware's public relations department. He also spent more than 10 years working with a local animal shelter to help nurse kittens, treat sick cats and domesticate feral animals. Coleman graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor's degree in journalism.

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