March 12, 2008 -- Pets and people can pass MRSA to each other, according to tomorrow's edition of The New England Journal of Medicine.
In a letter to the journal, German researchers tell the story of an otherwise healthy woman who may have caught methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) from one of her three cats.
The cat tested positive for MRSA, report Andreas Sing, MD, and colleagues at the Bavarian Food and Health Safety Authority.
Sing's team isn't certain if the woman caught MRSA from her cat or vice versa. But the MRSA strain in question is "extremely rare" in humans, and the woman's MRSA didn't clear up until the cat was treated with antibiotics, write Sing and colleagues.
(What does MRSA look like? See pictures of MRSA in WebMD's MRSA Slideshow.)
MRSA in Pets: Warning Signs?
MRSA isn't always obvious in pets. The German family's cat didn't show any signs of skin infection, Sing tells WebMD via email.
People can get MRSA by touching their pets or by being licked by their pets, though transmission through licking is "less likely" than through skin contact, Sing notes, adding that hand washing is the best way to avoid transmission of MRSA and most other bacteria.
"However, Staphylococcus aureus can also survive quite long in dry environments like dust, so this is also an option for transmission," Sing says.
This isn't the first report of pets and people exchanging MRSA.
In 2006, the CDC's journal Emerging Infectious Diseases reported that a San Francisco cat with skin ulcers tested positive for MRSA. The cat's owner, who had had skin infections three months earlier, may have spread MRSA to the cat. But that's not certain because the cat's owner didn't get a MRSA test.
And in 2004, researchers reported that a Dutch family tested positive for MRSA, which was traced to their pet dog. How did the dog get MRSA? Possibly from the family's mom, a nurse who had caught MRSA during an outbreak three years earlier, according to the report, also published in Emerging Infectious Diseases.