Cats Can Give Their Owners Tuberculosis

Cats can infect their owners with tuberculosis, it has been discovered. The world’s first known case is upsetting news for cat lovers because Nigel Gibbens, the Chief Veterinary Officer has written to veterinarians recommending that cats found to be infected with M.bovis (Mycobacterium bovis) be destroyed. It will give ammunition to cat haters. Mycobacterium bovis causes tuberculosis in cattle. This was already known to be a zoonotic disease but there were no reported cases. [see zoonotic disease – opens new window]

20 out of every 100,000 cats are thought to have bovine TB. That is 0.02 percent of cats. A University of Edinburgh Royal School of Veterinary Studies team said that 17% of cats with TB had a type of bovine TB – from another page on PoC.

The world’s first case of a person being infected with the M.bovis tuberculosis infection occurred in Berkshire, England. It is believed that the cats were infected by badgers or rats through a bite. The assessment was made by Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency.

It appears that people can be infected with tuberculosis from badgers via the domestic cat. This is also very bad news for the badger because as people will know the government is currently engaged in culling badgers on a large scale to try and curtail the transmission of TB to cattle. It would seem that this new development will give ammunition to farmers to extend the cull.

There have been 2 confirmed cases of human TB infection from cats and 2 suspected cases. Apparently, a veterinarian in Newbury, Berks spotted a cluster of infections in cats and notified Public Health England (PHE). Consequently, 24 people were screened, Of which two tested positive. The two people are responding well to treatment. It appears that three of the cases were linked to one cat.

Cats can give tuberculosis to people

Cats can give tuberculosis to people

PHE say that the risk of people catching this infection from infected cats is very low. However, they recommend that “household and close contacts of cats with confirmed M.bovis infection should be assessed and receive public health advice”.

Nowadays TB is curable. The treatment usually involves a 6 months course of antibiotics but apparently some forms of the disease are drug-resistant. The symptoms are a persistent cough for more than 3 weeks which may bring up some blood.

This is a developing story and no doubt there will be lots more written about this in the future but I hope that all cat owners and lovers will understand that this is rare and therefore they should not be concerned or take any unnecessary or unreasonable steps.

All cat owners should carry on as normal because this may have been around for years and nothing happened. Is this a new problem or the revelation of an existing problem? I suspect that this story change when more is known.

Important: no one should do anything which may harm a cat in anyway because of this news. Wait and see.

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Cats Can Give Their Owners Tuberculosis — 12 Comments

  1. More scaremongering by the press which will cause some idiots to panic and relinquish their ‘pet’ cat to already overflowing Animal Sanctuaries!
    Catching TB from a cat is so rare we’d have more chance of winning the lottery and the chance of that is almost zero!

    • A good point, Ruth. Thank you. What I find upsetting about this story, which I had to report because it is on the front page of the Times, is that it will give ammunition to people who do not like cats or hate cats to criticise the domestic cat.

      Everything that we do is an attempt to improve the welfare of the domestic cat and this sort of story can, to a certain extent, undermine that.

      Up until now, the transmission of TB, from a domestic cat to a person, was theoretical according to this article.

      You might remember the toxoplasmosis stories with everybody jumping on the bandwagon to criticise the domestic cat for spreading disease. That onslaught had to be defended and this, I think, is another case where a domestic cat will have to be defended an attempt to try and put some rational thought into the argument.

      I’ve not gone online to read the online papers about this but I have a strong feeling that the tabloids will jump on it and start churning out some rather nasty articles that are biased.

      Thanks Ruth for making a very sensible comment.

  2. Already seen a comment somewhere that all cats should be culled! Has Woody come to the UK instead of the Bermuda Triangle?
    How ignorant is that! Bad enough the badgers!

  3. Sadly the BCG seems to have fallen out of favour, despite being 80% effective in preventing human TB (it’s only effective if vaccination is given before the age of 16). In past years there have been records of cats being vectors for TB, so this this isn’t the world’s first case (no matter what the press might claim!); but in the past many cats had a much closer association with cattle e.g. as mousers in small local dairies or in in town abattoirs.

    Most TB cases in people are spread through human contact, especially through travel in developing or 3rd world regions (I used to work in a microbiology lab before turning full time to engineering, so I’m fairly clued up on the topic!)

    In the past, cats carrying TB were always destroyed. These days, even the cat can be treated with high probability of success.

    • Thank you, Sarah for adding some excellent detail and a bit of sanity to this news story. We both agree that the newspapers like to hype up things and this worries me because we know how cat haters like to harm cats. I always feel that there is a need to paint the domestic cat in a good light to try and make sure that the domestic cat is respected.

  4. Oh dear something else for the papers to mither on about, blow up out of proportion and scare the public into getting rid of their cats just in case they become victims of the very low risk TB through them. The Press loves this sort of thing, whack it on the front page and get people talking about it, fuel cat haters, give them more ammunition. People seem to forget they are at risk of disease and infection every day in normal life in all sorts of ways, but give them a sensationalist headline like this and panic prevails. There’ll be letter in the “Have Your Say” soon calling for a cull of cats, feral cats, any cats oh what a lovely excuse to get the gun out or splash the antifreeze around. So depressing.

    • When I bought my newspaper today I photographed the tabloids that were in the shop and you can see that photograph in the comments on this page. This is the exact point you are making, namely, blowing up what is in truth a small problem into a major problem and damaging the public image of the domestic cat at the same time. I think this is the biggest problem with this sort of story. People will start to get the wrong impression about the domestic cat. It is similar to the toxoplasmosis stories that were and still are all over the Internet in online newspapers – totally overhyped and in fact misleading.

  5. You can see how the newspapers are hyping up this story as predicted. The newspapers in England and I’m speaking of the tabloids grab hold of this sort of story and exaggerate things which I think is damaging for the domestic cat.

  6. We’ve been in a supermarket this morning and I saw those two newspapers side by side, they’ve soon shifted on to include dogs as well. I hate it when this happens, it’s all blown up out of proportion as always, I hope Marion of CP, Kevin of KH and Pat of the Ark are prepared for the rush of cats that have to be got rid of immediately in case little George or baby Beyoncé catch TB off them. (Hmmm I wonder if the mothers who have a fag hanging out of their mouths while handling their kids see the irony of it)

    • they’ve soon shifted on to include dogs as well

      As usual, there is only one thing on the mind of the proprietors of these tabloid newspapers: making money, and everything else is secondary to that objective and therefore they throw away any moral code or morality that they might have had in trying to present a balanced report. The trouble is this that the average person, Joe Bloggs, the man on top of the Clapham omnibus believes these bloody newspapers and that is why it upsets me because the domestic cat does not need bad news bearing in mind that even in the UK there are people that like to hurt the domestic cat. When we go to other countries, in Europe and in North America there are more people who are willing to hurt or kill the domestic cat or and this sort of news encourages these people. The domestic cat needs an across-the-board respect in order to ensure that its welfare is assured. We’re not getting that with this sort of story.

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