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Four catch TB from cats in England

A public health warning issued in the United Kingdom on March 27 describes four cases of tuberculosis (TB) that were transmitted to humans by infected cats. Public Health England notes a very rare situation where domestic cats were found to be infected with bovine tuberculosis, and that illness was passed to humans who had contact with the cats. To some cat owners, the suspicion that their cats may be trying to kill them is not new, but this sort of germ warfare is.

Farm cats drink fresh milk
by Drregor on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The illnesses are not a joke. Two patients were found to have active tuberculosis infections and two more have latent tuberculosis. The patients acquired their illnesses through contact with a cat infected with the disease. Both patients with active disease are being treated and are reportedly responding well.

Cats can catch at least three forms of tuberculosis, according to a fact sheet published by the State of Michigan. They are most likely to be infected with Mycobacterium tuberculosis, or human TB through contact with an infected human. They can contract Mycobacterium avium, or avian (bird) TB, by eating an infected bird. And, as in this report, they can become infected with bovine TB through exposure to infected animals, including consumption of unpasteurized milk from sick cows.

Public Health England believes that these are the first recorded cases of transmission of bovine TB from cats to humans. The cluster of infections in cats is described as "unusual." The risk of transmission of bovine TB from cats to humans is classified as "very low."

It is safe to hug your cat. Remember that awareness of the diseases that felines and humans share is important. Don't catch TB from your cat and don't give TB to your cat.

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