Super Bugs and Heart Disease Among Topics Discussed at Vet Conference
Written by Steve Dale   
July, 2005

Pets can now enhance the spread of so-called “super bugs,” which have historically been caught in the hospital by people.

Baltimore, MD: Pets can now enhance the spread of so-called “super bugs,” which have historically been caught in the hospital by people. These bacteria prove frustrating to treat since they’re resistant to common antibiotics. One of these “super bugs” is called Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (or MRSA). It turns out people can come home from the hospital with this nasty bug – even they never have an outward symptom, so they don’t even know they are carrying it. Then, MRSA is passed on to a family pet. Sometimes pets get sick, sometimes they don’t; either way, the bug can theoretically spread into the community.

Super bugs being spread by pets are a potential public health issue, according to Dr. J. Scott Weese, a specialist in large animal internal medicine and professor in clinical studies at Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph in Canada. His findings were among those announced at the annual Forum of the American College of Veterinary Medicine (ACVIM), held June 1-4 at the Baltimore Convention Center.

ACVIM include scientists and private practicing veterinarians in oncology, cardiology, internal medicine, neurology and large animal medicine. A record, 3,200 veterinary professionals from 45 countries attended the conference.

Weese explained that while dogs, cats, rabbits (and according to still unconfirmed reports, parrots) are susceptible to MRSA, horses have even developed their own strain. This is why horses at some veterinary facilities are being tested specifically for the bacterial infection before being assigned to an isolation stall. Those horses who test positive are separated from other horses, and handled using sanitary precautions.

At the conference Weese asked attendees to volunteer their nose, taking swabs tests to determine the prevalence of the infection among those most likely interacting with animals. He said, “The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, GA) is becoming very interested in this. “There’s certainly no reason to panic because we don’t know what the incidence is,” he said. ”Of course, MRSA can be very serious. MRSA kills people, and may potentially kill pets too – although no one knows how many.”

Weese added, “MRSA is most life threatening among people and also, it seems, animals with wound infections, who are immune-compromised or otherwise unwell.”

In an amazing potential breakthrough in research, which may also impact human health, it turns out polyethylene glycol – which is used in antifreeze - can help repair spinal cord injuries in dogs.

Dr. Joan R. Coates, a veterinary neurology specialist and associate professor at the University of Missouri – Columbia said, “I’m exciting, thrilled about the prospects of our results.” However, she cautioned, “While there may be applications for human medicine, we still need to do further research.”

Dogs injected with the liquid polymer polyethylene glycol or PEG – if administered soon after a spinal cord injury, prevented permanent spinal cord damage. In fact, most dogs were ultimately able to return to a normal life.

Despite Coates’ down-playing of the immediate applications to human medicine, the FDA and human researchers are now investigating.

Dr. Carroll Loyer, a cardiac specialist in Denver, CO pointed out, “Cardiologists want to focus on putting ourselves out of business. We do a ton of pacemakers, use the same angioplasty techniques that we do in people; and although it is very expensive, Colorado State University and Texas A & M even do open heart surgery. Our new endeavor is to find genetic markers for heart disease, then we can target defective genes.”

The college of veterinary cardiologists are teaming up to maintain the first ever data base of animals with heart disease. Loyer said he hopes pure bred dog and cat breeders will participate in the registry.

Pet owners brought their animals to an emotional press conference held at the ACVIM Forum to tell amazing tales of how veterinary specialists saved their pets’ lives.

Lucky, a 5-year old Sheltie is the Lance Armstrong of dogs. The determined pooch continuing to compete in the United States Dog Agility Association, despite being treated for cancer. “We won a whole lot more than agility events,” said Martine Britell, a TV producer from Middleburg, VA.

Lucky was treated with traditional chemotherapy for lymphosarcoma by a veterinary oncologist. A second veterinarian offered alternative therapies, including herbs and dietary advice.

Britell said and laughed, “Maybe dogs can wear a yellow bracelet on their paws to raise awareness and money for research.”

Lucky, who is one of the top agility dogs in the country, loves to participate in agility. “Chemotherapy is no fun, but it doesn’t have to destroy quality of life either,” Britell added. “Since so many pet owners have to deal with cancer, I hope they understand two messages. Cancer isn’t necessarily a death sentence. And your pet isn’t just another statistic; personalize the treatment plan, make certain your vet tailors the treatment for your individual pet.”

Cats gain from cutting edge medicine too. “We don’t have children, so Genie’s recovery meant everything to me,” tearfully explained Denise Benoit of Berwyn Heights, MD. Her calico cat was diagnosed with a heart murmur, which ultimately led to congestive heart failure. It turned out that the cause of Genie’s problem required a boarded surgeon to operate, and then a boarded internal medicine specialist to deal with post-operative complications. Benoit even quit her job to nurse her kitty to health.

While Genie’s daily quality of life today is just fine, truth is she has hypertrophic cardiomyopathy – a condition for which there is no cure - and may well shorten her lifespan. “We take one day at time,” said Benoit. “But then, isn’t that what we all do?” The cost for all her medical care was over $6,000. Was it worth it? Benoit starred back at the reporter inquiring as if that question isn’t even worth asking, “Look,” she said, pointing to her purring and clearly contented kitty. “I can’t put a price tag on her life.”

To learn more about veterinary specialists, and the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, check out www.acvim.org.

 
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