Straight from the Mini-Horse's Mouth: Potential Carrier for Opportunistic Human Pathogens

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      The benefits of animal assisted therapy (AAT) in both inpatient and outpatient settings has long been recognized in the improvement of health and well-being. Most AAT hospital programs have policies and protocols around testing, vaccination and grooming that must be done prior to a hospital visit. However, beyond the realm of dogs, most facilities do not have defined strategies for other animal visits. Our facility was approached to expand our AAT program to include a mini-horse. Due to limited publications on the safety of barn animals in healthcare settings, our infection prevention (IP) department collaborated with laboratory medicine to determine if the mini-horse was a carrier for human pathogens.


      Pre and post-visit eSwabs of three visits were collected on the mini-horse (about 1.5 hours apart) from five sites: oral, nasal, armpit, coat and rectal. Swabs were plated onto several different media for overnight incubation at 35°C. Any colonies which grew on these plates were subsequently identified using matrix-assisted laser desorption/ionization (MALDI).


      51 colonies were identified from the different media. Of these, 14 (28%) were found to be of the opportunistic human pathogens Acinetobacter baumanii, Escherichia coli and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Species of Acinetobacter, Pseudomonas, Staphylococcus and Streptococcus that are found in humans, animals, and the environment were also identified. Additionally, 10 (20%) colonies were unable to be identified.


      Our study identified that mini-horses can carry potential human pathogens and as such, proper IP practices should be followed prior and after visits. Additionally, petting locations should be minimized in hospitals to avoid breaches in protocol.
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