Two people in the U.K. have contracted tuberculosis (TB) from domestic cats. According to a March 27, 2014 article in The Independent, these cases are the first ever recorded instances of TB transmission from cats to humans. There are nine cats right now that have a bacterial infection known as Mycobacterium bovis, or M. bovis. This bacteria most often causes TB in cattle.
An article in the Western Morning News says that vets think the cats could have contracted the bacteria after coming into contact with badgers infected with M. bovis. Professor Danielle Gunn-Moore, a researcher in feline medicine, said that there have been so few cats with M. bovis in recent years that it's possible people got complacent, and stopped looking for the symptoms. She warned people that this particular bacteria is not very picky about what it infects.
Symptoms of M. bovis infection in cats depend on how the cat was infected in the first place. He might start having diarrhea, vomiting and lose his appetite if he ingested the bacteria through prey or contaminated milk. If he caught the infection through skin-to-skin contact with another infected animal, sores that won't heal might be the first symptom. Eventually, though, he will start coughing, and appear to have problems breathing, as the bacteria attacks his lungs.
Treatment usually includes antibiotics, although this has to be considered very carefully because of the growth of drug-resistant strains of TB.
An article in Pawnation from 2013 discussed the rising concern of M. bovis infection in cats in the U.K., because of the possibility that the infection can be transmitted to owners. The University of Edinburgh estimates that infection rates might be around 1 out of every 1,000 cats. This doesn't sound like a lot, but in both the U.S. and the U.K., that amounts to thousands of possible infections.
It's important to remember that these are the first ever documented cases of TB transmission from cats to people. Authorities in the U.K. believe that transmission between cats and people will remain very low. There's no reason to panic that your furry friends at home, or even nearby feral cat colonies, will cause a TB epidemic.