Although veterinarians are exposed to health risks daily, new research findings reveal that many are not as vigilant about disease prevention in their practices as they should be.  In the May/June issue of the Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, Dr. Paul S. Morley of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, Colorado State University, charges that vets often fail to act on “universally” accepted risks for infectious disease in patients, their pet owners, and the people who are in contact with the animals.

The study reveals that healthcare-associated infection (HCAI) outbreaks are common in veterinary hospitals and clinics. With 82% of teaching hospitals surveyed reporting outbreaks, the most common causes reported were salmonella and MRSA. Veterinary clinics and facilities also identified disease related to zoonotic infections.

Dr. Morley urges veterinarians to consider the treatment impact on all patients, citing an example of a severely ill dog with an acute abdomen who late in the day was diagnosed with parvovirus infection, having been moved from room to room within the clinic for hours, exposing others to the infection.

Veterinarians Are Liable

If a person in contact with the patient contracts a zoonotic infection, veterinarians can be held liable. Improving communication with the pet owner can lower exposure to lawsuits and veterinarians are advised to document that information was relayed to pet owners regarding zoonotic diseases.

Veterinary personnel often fail to look for evidence of HCAI in their practices, assuming that the risk is small. Nor are veterinarians vigilant about prevention. In one survey, only 14% of small animal vets said they never ate in animal handling areas. Many reported that they did not take precautions when examining animals with GI disease, skin or neurological disease.

Veterinarians also fail to provide pet owners with educational information about prevention practices for zoonotic diseases.

Who is Responsible for Educating Pet Owners?

Although vets are more qualified to educate pet owners about zoonotic disease than physicians, they believe that physicians are most responsible for educating pet owners.

The research team concluded that vets must educate staff about HCAI, nosocomial and zoonotic infections, identify those patients who are at higher risk for HCAI, and know which procedures have higher HCAI risks. Their findings underscore the need for standardized guidelines for risk prevention and surveillance systems to identify HCAI.

Source: Morley, P.S. (2013), Evidence-Based Infection Control In Clinical Practice: If You Buy Clothes for the Emperor, Will He Wear Them?. Journal of Veterinary Internal Medicine, 2013 May/June; 27: 430–438.


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