Passengers sensitive to the cat allergen can have symptoms on public transport

In an interesting, eye-opening, study conducted in Helsinki, Finland and published on October 9, 2008, scientists found that “Dog and cat allergens are present in public transport vehicles in Helsinki at levels that cause symptoms in sensitive persons.”

I will focus on the cat allergen Fel D 1 but mention the canine variety. They found that the median concentration of the feline allergen was 870 ng per gram of dust. A nanogram is one thousand-millionth of a gram; an incredibly small amount but sufficient, they say to provoke symptoms in sensitive people using transport systems.

Cat on a London bus - Number 73

Cat on a London bus – Number 73. Photo: Flickr (acb). Not rules that cats must be in a cat carrier in London then ?!

The concentrations of the dog allergen, Can f 1, was significantly higher at 2400 ng program of dust. This is to be expected because more dogs are taken on public transportation services than cats.

My research indicates that all public transport services in the USA have policies which allow companion animals to be taken onto the vehicles provided they are in carriers. For example, the public transportation pet policies of Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation (Metro) demand that companion animals are “secured in enclosed carriers and do not block the aisle or a doorway, do not deprive a customer of a seat, do not interfere with the comfort or convenience of other customers and the bus or Metro representatives may ask if the animal is a service animal and if they are required because of disability and what task the animal has been trained to perform.

San Francisco have a similar policy for their Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) network. Pets are allowed on board at no additional charge and the only requirement is that the pet must be secured in a container that is specifically manufactured for transport of a pet.

Domestic cat disembarks from a bus without any human supervisi

Domestic cat disembarks from a bus without any human supervision! Photo in public domain. This occurred in the UK by the way.

The story doesn’t quite finish there because clearly cats are very rarely taken onto public transport in America or any other country. However, as much allergen contamination comes from pet owners as it is on their clothes. Note: one cat in England liked to take his daily bus ride on his own ? – see picture above.

We know that the cat allergen is dispersed throughout a cat owner’s home. This occurs because the allergen (a protein called Fel D1) is in the cat’s saliva. When a cat licks themselves, they deposit the allergen on their fur where it dries. Through the actions of the animal, it is released from the fur and taken on air currents to items of furniture. It is called ‘cat dander’ which is also deposited onto the person in various ways including a cat sitting on that person’s lap or the person holding the cat.

The conclusion is that cat owners might sometimes be affecting non-cat owners who are sensitive to cat dander on public transport across the world! It is quite an interesting thought.

I hope cat owners don’t mind hearing this news. It is not particularly significant but perhaps interesting to those with an inquisitive mind. Basically, the cat allergen gets everywhere. You can imagine that tiny amounts of it are deposited on non-cat owners’ clothes and then they walk it back into their homes where it ends up on their furniture.

“Of 324 adult passengers with allergy or asthma, 53% had experienced symptoms in public transport; the corresponding figure for 75 children was 32%.”

The study: Occurrence of dog, cat, and mite allergens in public transport vehicles by K. Partti-Pellinen, O. Marttila, S. Mäkinen-Kiljunen, T. Haahtela

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Note: sources for news articles are carefully selected but the news is often not independently verified.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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