CDC Study: Equine Practitioner Hygiene Could Use Improvement

In a multi-institutional study coordinated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), researchers found that many veterinarians do not consistently engage in behaviors or practices that are widely deemed protective against the spread and transmission of zoonotic diseases.

Emerging infectious diseases are those that have appeared in a population for the first time, or that may have existed previously but are rapidly increasing in incidence or geographic range. These diseases, particularly those that are zoonotic (transmissible from animals to humans), are a growing concern to both veterinarians and the general public. More than 130 zoonotic diseases are currently considered emerging diseases, including West Nile virus and monkeypox.

"Veterinarians are uniquely trained to assist in the prevention of zoonotic diseases and in the promotion of public health," said Jennifer McQuiston, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVPM (preventative medicine), of the CDC, which is based in Atlanta, Ga.

But in the study, "Infection control practices and zoonotic disease risks among veterinarians in the United States," published in the June 15 edition of the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, McQuiston and colleagues reported that many veterinarians in the United States do not utilize sufficient personal protective equipment or engage in appropriate practices to reduce the spread of zoonotic diseases.

In 2005 a questionnaire was mailed to U.S. veterinarians regarding their perception of zoonotic disease risks and precaution awareness. Of the recipients, 41% (2,133/5,168) returned the completed questionnaire, including 456 equine practitioners.

82% of equine veterinarians reported not always washing their hands between patients.

"Our study found that 72% of equine veterinarians reported not always washing their hands before eating, drinking, or smoking at work--more so than both small and large animal practitioners," McQuiston said. "In addition, 82% of equine veterinarians reported not always washing their hands between patients."

Equine veterinarians also re-cap needles most often, with 67% of practitioners reporting doing so. This practice is significantly associated with accidental needlesticks (to the practitioner) and is considered taboo in human medicine.

According to McQuiston and colleagues, the study results indicate a need for education and policy for infection control practices throughout the profession.

"In the meantime, I recommend that veterinarians take a more proactive role in protecting themselves, their staff, clients, and patients, as they are the primary line of defense against the spread of zoonotic disease in our communities," emphasized McQuiston.

The researchers will present further results, along with recommendations, on July 22 at the upcoming AVMA convention.

About the Author

Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc

Stacey Oke, MSc, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and freelance medical writer and editor. She is interested in both large and small animals, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. Since 2005, she's worked as a research consultant for nutritional supplement companies, assisted physicians and veterinarians in publishing research articles and textbooks, and written for a number of educational magazines and websites.

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