Cats can give owners TB
Two people have developed tuberculosis (TB) after contact with a cat in the first ever recorded cases of cat-to-human transmission, officials have said.
Public Health England (PHE) said t wo people developed tuberculosis after contact with a domestic cat infected with bacteria Mycobacterium bovis.
The bacteria causes TB in cattle (known as bovine TB) and in other animals.
Nine cases of Mycobacterium bovis infection in domestic cats in Berkshire and Hampshire were investigated by the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) and PHE last year.
PHE said it had offered TB screening to 39 people identified as having had contact with the nine infected cats.
Of these, 24 people accepted screening. Two were found to have active TB and there were two cases of latent TB, which means they had been exposed to TB at some point but did not have an active infection.
Both people with active TB disease have confirmed infection with Mycobacterium bovis (M. bovis) and are responding to treatment.
PHE said there there h ave been no further cases of TB in cats reported in Berkshire or Hampshire since March 2013 and said it believed the risk of transmission from cats to humans was "very low".
Analysis of the samples of active TB from the humans and the infected cats by the AHVLA showed the M. bovis was "indistinguishable".
This " indicates transmission of the bacterium from an infected cat", PHE said.
In the cases of latent TB infection, it was not possible to confirm if they were caused by M. bovis.
According to PHE, transmission of the bacteria from infected animals to humans "can occur by inhaling or ingesting bacteria shed by the animal or through contamination of unprotected cuts in the skin while handling infected animals or their carcasses".
Dr Dilys Morgan, head of gastrointestinal, emerging and zoonotic diseases department at PHE, said: "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."
Professor Noel Smith, head of the bovine TB genotyping group at AHVLA, said: " 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."
Cattle herds with confirmed cases of bovine TB in the area have all been placed under movement restrictions to prevent the spread of disease.
Figures show that TB caused by M. bovis is diagnosed in fewer than 40 people in the UK each year.
The majority of cases are in the over-65s, most likely due to a latent infection acquired years earlier becoming active again.
TB is a serious condition but can be cured with proper treatment, namely antibiotics taken for at least six months.
Several different antibiotics are used because some forms of TB are resistant to certain products.
TB mainly affects the lungs but can affect any part of the body, including the bones and nervous system.
Typical symptoms include having a persistent cough for more than three weeks that brings up phlegm (which may be bloody), weight loss and night sweats.
People can also experience a fever, tiredness and fatigue and a loss of appetite.
Usually, TB only spreads after prolonged exposure to someone with the illness, such as living in the same house.
With latent TB, people do not have symptoms but the bacteria remains in their body.
In 2012, 8,751 cases of TB were reported in the UK.
Mike Mandelbaum, chief executive of the charity TB Alert, said: "In the UK we are a nation of cat lovers, so this may prove quite shocking for people who may now look at their pets in a different light.
"Although I would stress that the risk of catching TB from a cat is likely to remain very low, this is a stark reminder that TB is still a problem in the UK today, with almost 9,000 people developing it last year.
"As TB is airborne, the best way to control the spread of all forms of this curable illness, including those transmitted by animals, is for it to be diagnosed and treated as early as possible."