Bedside Barriers Needed for Therapy Animals?

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Bedside Barriers Needed for Therapy Animals?

The trouble with patient-to-patient transmission

By Elizabeth Hanink, RN, BSN, PHN
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While you may not have seen this in any general hospitals, the use of therapy animals is common in preschools and nursing homes. Usually dogs, but sometimes other creatures, wander about the place, making the very young and the very old feel more at home, even when home is far away. In some locations, preschoolers visit the elderly as a group, and the pets are not far behind.

Without a doubt, these well-trained animals increase opportunities for affection and cognitive stimulation. Clients look forward to the visits, and studies show that loneliness and depression lessen; often, therapy animals help relative strangers bridge communication gaps.

A downside lurks, however. The simple fact is there is no way to sanitize these companions. Recent findings reported in a letter published in The Journal of Hospital Infection indicate that Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and Clostridium difficile were found on several dogs that visited a long-term care facility.  

In the study, the dogs did not harbor these organisms before the visit; but after shaking paws with several residents, sitting on the beds and enjoying the kisses of elderly patients they retained the bacteria on their fur and paws. The chance of patient-to-patient transmission is obvious and troublesome.

Rather than ban the visitors, who after all did not bring the germs into the facility, staff should look at suggestions for infection control that include barriers on beds, restricting the movement of pets and limiting direct contact.   

Elizabeth Hanink, RN, BSN, PHN, is a freelance writer with extensive hospital and community-based nursing experience.

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