First cases alert: Cats spread TB to four people

Experts stressed that cat-to-human transmission is very rare

Two people have developed tuberculosis (TB) after coming into contact with a domestic cat, in the first ever recorded cases of cat-to-human transmission, Public Health England (PHE) has said.

The cat was infected with the Mycobacterium bovis (M.bovis)  bacteria, which causes bovine TB in cattle and other animals.

Nine cases of M. bovis infection in domestic cats in Berkshire and Hampshire were investigated by the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) and PHE last year.

PHE said there have been no further cases of TB in cats reported in the two areas since March 2013, and said it believed the risk of transmission from cats to humans was “very low”.

The organisation said it had offered TB screening to 39 people identified as having had contact with the nine infected cats, with 24 people accepting.

Two were found to have active TB in their systems, and are responding to treatment. There were two additional cases of latent TB, meaning the people had been exposed to TB at some point but did not have an active infection.

Analysis of the samples of active TB from the humans and the infected cats by the AHVLA showed the M. bovis was “ indistinguishable”.

This “indicates transmission of the bacterium from an infected cat”, PHE said.

In the cases of latent TB infection, it was not possible to confirm if they were caused by M. bovis.

According to PHE, transmission of the bacteria from infected animals to humans “can occur by inhaling or ingesting bacteria shed by the animal or through contamination of unprotected cuts in the skin while handling infected animals or their carcasses”.

Dr Dilys Morgan, head of gastrointestinal, emerging and zoonotic diseases department at PHE, said: “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."

TB is a serious condition but can be cured with proper treatment, namely antibiotics taken for at least six months. The disease mainly affects the lungs but can affect any part of the body, including the bones and nervous system.

Typical symptoms include having a persistent cough for more than three weeks that brings up phlegm (which may be bloody), weight loss and night sweats.

People can also experience a fever, tiredness and fatigue and a loss of appetite.

Usually, TB only spreads after prolonged exposure to someone with the illness, such as living in the same house.

In 2012, 8,751 cases of TB were reported in the UK.

Mike Mandelbaum, chief executive of the charity TB Alert, said: “ In the UK we are a nation of cat lovers, so this may prove quite shocking for people who may now look at their pets in a different light.

"Although I would stress that the risk of catching TB from a cat is likely to remain very low, this is a stark reminder that TB is still a problem in the UK today, with almost 9,000 people developing it last year.

"As TB is airborne, the best way to control the spread of all forms of this curable illness, including those transmitted by animals, is for it to be diagnosed and treated as early as possible."

Additional reporting by PA

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test