Many of you will have seen the worrying news over the weekend of a TB outbreak in cats that has spread to people. This is the first time that a person has ever caught TB from their cat and although this is a concern it is incredibly unusual and should not cause alarm.
TB is caused by a family of bacteria called Mycobacterium. The recently reported cases have involved Mycobacterium bovis infections. Cattle are the usual host for this infection but it can also be found in badgers - we have known for some time that on very rare occasions TB can spread from cows or badgers into other species. Since 2006 this infection has been notifiable by law - basically if any vet or laboratory makes a diagnosis of TB then it is reported.
Since 2006 there have been fewer than 30 cats a year reported. Unusually between Dec 2012 and March 2013 there was a cluster of nine cats infected in one small area in Newbury. It was the owner of these cats and her daughter that were infected.
Cats that develop TB normally live in rural areas with high numbers of cattle and/or badgers in the area. Signs are very obvious. The cat is either showing signs of illness with dramatic weight loss and a productive cough; or they could have lumps on their skin which are oozing; or a bite wound (from a badger) that is not healing.
As expected some members of the British Press have been very dramatic with their reporting - it is important to realise that this risk is incredibly low and if your cat is fit and well you have nothing to worry about. There are estimated to be 8.5 million cats in the UK thus if only 30 cats a year are affected that works out as roughly 1 in every 283,333 cats are at risk of infection.
Calls have gone out for all infected cats to be euthanased. However this should not put you off seeking veterinary advice if you are worried about your cat. If affected cats are not discharging infectious material then combination antibiotics given for long periods can be effective in treating this infection.
In humans the classic TB infection that we all usually hear about is caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis which most of us will be vaccinated against at school. This is transmitted from person to person. In 2012 there were 8,130 cases of human tuberculosis in England. In the same year only 26 cases of M. bovis were reported in people (less than 0.5% of cases). None of these at that point were caught from cats but most likely from people in close contact with infected cattle or badgers.
As yet there are no commercially available vaccines for your pets for M. bovis but work is continuing on development of cattle and badger vaccinations. We will keep you informed if there are any changes in the situation but as always if you are worried about your cat please contact one of us at the practice for advice on 01483 455355.