New expert guidance by the Society for Healthcare Epidemiology of America (SHEA) outlines recommendations for developing policies regarding the use of animals in healthcare facilities, including animal-assisted activities, service animals, research animals and personal pet visitation in acute care hospitals. The guidance was published online in Infection Control & Hospital Epidemiology, the journal of SHEA.
“Animals have had an increasing presence in healthcare facilities,” said David Weber, MD, MPH, a lead author of the recommendations. “While there may be benefits to patient care, the role of animals in the spread of bacteria is not well understood. We have developed standard infection prevention and control guidance to help protect patients and healthcare providers via animal-to-human transmission in healthcare settings.”
Since evidence on the role animals play in the transmission of pathogens in healthcare facilities is largely unknown, the SHEA Guidelines Committee comprised of experts in infection control and prevention developed the recommendations based on available evidence, practical considerations, a survey of SHEA members, writing group opinion and consideration of potential harm where applicable. The guidance was also endorsed by the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC), a professional association of more than 15,000 infection preventionists.
Guidance is grouped by the role of animals — animal-assisted activities (i.e., pet therapy and volunteer programs), service animals, research animals and personal pet visitation. Select recommendations are highlighted below.
- Facilities should develop a written policy for animal-assisted activities. An animal-assisted activity visit liaison should be designated.
- Allow only dogs to serve in animal-assisted activities, such as pet therapy.
- Animals and handlers should be formally trained and evaluated.
- Animal interaction areas should be determined
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