Cat lovers, beware. Getting too intimate with your pet may bring you this.

Health agencies in the United Kingdom released a statement on March 27 announcing that two people in England developed tuberculosis (TB) following contact with a Mycobacterium bovis-infected domestic cat.

Sometime in 2013, the Public Health England (PHE), together with the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA), began to investigate nine cases of Bovine TB or M. bovis infection in domestic cats in Hampshire and Berkshire. The bacterium brings about tuberculosis (TB) in cattle and in other species.

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

The Veterinary Record, meanwhile, published the findings of doctors T. Roberts, C. O'Connor, J. Nunez Garcia, N.H. Smith and R. de la Rua-Domenech, titled Unusual cluster Mycobacterium bovis infection cats.

"BOVINE tuberculosis (TB) caused by Mycobacterium bovis is a major problem in British cattle. Furthermore, M bovis infection has been documented in many other mammals, with badgers acting as an important reservoir and vector of infection for cattle in the west of England and parts of Wales," findings state.

The investigation started by offering a screening of possible TB cases to 39 people said to have had contact with the infected cats. Of these, 24 contacts accepted the offered screening. Two active TB cases and two latent TB cases showed up in the results, thus pushing for more investigations. By latent TB diagnosis, it means patients had previous exposure to TB but didn't acquire the disease.

Seen through a molecular analysis performed at AHVLA, the M. bovis - when quarantined from the infected cats and the active TB-infected human cases - were indistinguishable. There was no confirmation, however, in other latent TB-infected cases if these were due to M. bovis or the source of their exposure. Since March 2013, there are no similar cases in cats recorded. The infected patients, on the other hand, are on treatment.

The health agencies explain how the infection can occur in animals, as well as from animals to humans.

The medical report said that cats went around the local woods and possibly got the infection by two things. One is by eating rodents, which in turn picked up the disease from cows. The other is by fighting with badgers that also carry the disease.

For humans, one can catch it by ingesting or inhaling the bacteria released by the animals can lead to transmission of M. bovis from infected animals to humans. Handling infected animals or their remains while one has unprotected cuts in the skin can also bring about contamination.

The PHE said the risk of transmission of M. bovis from cats to humans though is very low.

"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," said Professor Noel Smith, also the Bovine TB Genotyping Group head at AHVLA.

For further prevention of disease spread, bovine TB-infected cattle herds have been put under movement restrictions, while all health professionals maintain vigilance for any further cases of the disease, not only in humans and cats but as well as with other pet and livestock animal species.

A public health risk assessment report, Qualitative assessment of the risk that cats infected with Mycobacterium bovis present to human health, however, suggested that the most sensible course of action is to kill the Bovine TB-infected cats for the simple reason that they are already a risk to pet owners and even to veterinarians. The report came from the Human Animal Infections and Risk Surveillance (HAIRS) group.

ⓒ 2021 All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.