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Cat-To-Human TB transfer Possible, Say Health Officials

Cat-To-Human TB transfer is Possible
(Photo : Flickr) Cat-To-Human TB transfer is Possible

Cat-to-human tuberculosis transmission was confirmed in two people in England.

Officials from the Public health England (PHE) and the Animal Health Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) looked into nine cases of mycobacterium bovis or M.bovis in pet cats from Berkshire and Hampshire in 2012. They identified 39 people who were in contact with the virus infected cats. After screening 24 patients with suspected TB infection, experts found two people with active TB and two others with latent TB that is they had been exposed to the virus some time but did not have the disease.  

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 Researchers noted identical M.bovis virus in both infected cats and those with active infection after individually examining them. This points to  cat-to-human transfer. The analysis could not help associate virus attacks in those with latent TB infection or identify the virus source. Experts  say that the risk of catching the infection from cats is low but people should still seek medical advice

 Dilys Morgan, head of gastrointestinal, emerging and zoonotic diseases department at PHE, said in a press release, "It's important to remember that this was a very unusual cluster of TB in domestic cats. M. bovis is still uncommon in cats - it mainly affects livestock animals. These are the first documented cases of cat-to-human transmission, and so although PHE has assessed the risk of people catching this infection from infected cats as being very low, we are recommending that household and close contacts of cats with confirmed M. bovis infection should be assessed and receive public health advice."

Humans can pick the virus through wounds and cuts while touching an infected animal or breathing air contaminated by M.bovis bacteria.  

Noel Smith, Head of the Bovine TB Genotyping Group at AHVLA, said, "Testing of nearby herds revealed a small number of infected cattle with the same strain of M. bovis as the cats. However, direct contact of the cats with these cattle was unlikely considering their roaming ranges. The most likely source of infection is infected wildlife, but cat-to-cat transmission cannot be ruled out."

To prevent the disease spread, healthcare authorities have instructed locals not to allow movement of cattle herd that are infected with TB and are looking at infections in other animals.

The findings are published in The Veterinary Record.

Mar 28, 2014 08:45 AM EDT

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