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Animal-to-Human Infection Transmission During Healthcare Setting Visits


Gonzalo Bearman, MD, MPH, hospital epidemiologist, Virginia Commonwealth University, explains the risk of animal to human infection transmission during personal pet, service animal, and assisted-therapy animal healthcare setting visitations.
Interview Transcript (slightly modified for readability):
“It’s important to distinguish between those three different categories. [The] personal pet or personal pet visitation is when a patient’s own pet, dog in this situation, comes to visit that patient typically in an end-of-life or a [long] hospitalization for emotional support [or that] sort of aspect. That's number one.
Number two: service animals, as you know, are for immediate service to one patient only and come to the hospital and don’t have contact with any other patients, and in general should not be approached or treated as pets. They are not to be petted; they are not to be approached; they are not to be [really cajoled] or played with like you do with other animals.
And then there’s [number three] animal-assisted therapy, or animals in healthcare. An animal-assisted therapy animal is essentially an animal and human interaction in a healthcare setting in which dedicated animals and teams, the team being the animal and the handler, come into the healthcare setting in a protocolized fashion, and visit different patients across the healthcare system.
Now [there are other] risk reduction strategies that are taken into effect, like administrative controls. For example, not letting these [dogs] on call or these animal-assisted therapy teams go to certain patient populations like bone marrow transplant units for example, or people in the Intensive Care Units [ICUS]. [Those that] are at the greatest risk of a potential infection [do not have] a visit from the animal assisted therapy group.”
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