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Minimizing the Risk of Infection Transmission from Animal-assisted Therapies in Healthcare Setting

Gonzalo Bearman, MD, MPH, hospital epidemiologist, Virginia Commonwealth University, describes possible protocols that healthcare institutions can implement in order to reduce the risk of animal to human infection transmission.

Gonzalo Bearman, MD, MPH, hospital epidemiologist, Virginia Commonwealth University, describes possible protocols that healthcare institutions can implement in order to reduce the risk of animal to human infection transmission.

Interview Transcript (slightly modified for readability)

“I think the strategies to minimize the risk of [infection transmission from] animal-assisted therapies can be thought of in several ways. Number one, are administrative controls: having a program that’s formal, that’s protocolized, and under the supervision of the volunteer services of the hospital in conjunction with [an] infection prevention group, or the infectious disease service. That’s element number one.

The other element in administrative controls is avoiding visits to areas of highest risk, like bone marrow transplant units, [Intensive Care Units (ICUs)], kitchens, burn units.

Another [way to avoid infection transmission] is to train the handler. The handler of the animal knows how to read their dog’s emotions, how to keep the dog properly calm, make sure it doesn’t stray from the leash. [The handler] knows how to respond in the event that there is something such as a urination, or a fecal incident in the hospital; the trainers know how to manage that.

Last, but not least, is the actual animal itself. That animal should have certifications from a qualified veterinarian, of being in good health, and that the animal is up-to-date on vaccines, also. Another component of the protocolized visits is before the visit, the animal’s nails should be trimmed so that they don’t pose a risk [of] scratching. Another [thing] is that the fur should combed through, to remove any excess fur, any excess danders, and also to look for any ectoparasites, like ticks and fleas, and if those are present, then certainly the animal shouldn’t be allowed in the healthcare setting. Last, is actually bathing the animal prior to the visit, either the night before or the day of the visit, so that the animal comes as clean as possible to the time of the actual animal-assisted therapy visit.

So those are kind of the broad strokes [of] how you can really minimize [the] risk across the healthcare setting with animal visits.”