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TB in Cats and the risk to people

With the news this week that two people have been infected with tuberculosis, almost certainly from their cats it is a worrying time for cat owners. Evidence at present suggests that the risk of transmission to people from their cat is considered very low and in the Milton Keynes area this risk is luckily probably even lower. Tuberculosis is caused by a group of organisms called Mycobacteria. These organisms are generally quite slow-growing and also quite resistant to antibiotics.

There are three main species of mycobacterium that we need to concern ourselves with regards to cats and they are Mycobacterium tuberculi, Mycobacterium bovis, and Mycobacterium microti. 90% of human TB is caused by M.tuberculi and some by M.bovis. Infection in people with M.microti is extremely rare. Cats on the other hand are quite resistant to M.tuberculi with M.microti and M.bovis causing most of their infections. TB in cats invariably presents with non-healing, discharging skin sores, rather than respiratory complaints. In the days before pasteurisation it was commonly caught from drinking infected cow’s milk but now it is invariably caught by being bitten on the front legs and head by small rodents which themselves have TB, so cats that hunt are at much higher risk.

We had an unusual case of TB in a cat Milton Keynes a few years ago. She initially presented with a discharging lump below her eye which on analysis was confirmed as TB but was unable to be classified. She had 6 months of triple antibiotic therapy and seemed cured. A year or so later she appeared with inflammation in the left eye which resolved with treatment. A few months later she came back with this lesion in her eye, a similar one in the back of her right eye and a gritty lesion in the lymph node in her back leg from which we were able to culture the T.microti. She also had extensive lung involvement on x-rays. After several more months of treatment the lesions resolved although she remains blind. A year or so later she relapsed with lesions on her spine but she is now on continuous treatment with antibiotics but remains a very sweet happy cat.

The problem with TB is that the organisms are extremely difficult to grow and over 50%, in most studies are unable to be cultured. For those of us in Milton Keynes however the good news is that in those cats where we do culture there TB the typing has a strong relation to geography. In a study done between 2004-8 nearly all the cases of M.bovis in cats came from the West of England and Wales, while nearly all the cases from the South East of England were M.microti. TB is difficult to treat in both people and animals and there is also the ethical dilemma of using what are the most effective treatments in people in animals which may lead to greater resistance. TB in cats is uncommon, but also easy to miss therefore if owners have a pet that is unwell they should consult a vet. However the one ray of sunshine is that cats in our area that do catch TB are likely to be carrying M.microti making the risk to their families very low.

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Alabama Rot!

As you probably already know a local veterinary practice has had a confirmed case of ‘Alabama Rot’, the disease thought to be responsible for the illness in some dogs in the New Forest since December 2012. More recently it has been identified in other counties in the UK, the dog treated locally was primarily exercised in Salcey Forest. The Forestry Commission have been contacted and made aware of the case and are putting signs up warning dog owners immediately.

Idiopathic cutaneous and renal glomerular vasculopathy, otherwise known as CRGV or Alabama Rot is a disease that has been known about since the late 1980’s. Dogs presenting with the disease have kidney failure and/or skin lesions. The cause of the disease remains unknown. Most commonly, the skin lesions are seen below the knee or elbow, and are a symptom of the disease rather than being a wound from injury. There may be a patch of red skin or an ulcerated area, and there may be swelling around the lesion. In the following two to seven days, the affected dogs have developed sign of kidney failure, which includes vomiting, lethargy and reduced appetite. This disease will not be the only cause of skin lesions or kidney failure, often there will be another cause. However, prompt diagnosis and treatment is imperative for any dog with ‘Alabama Rot’, but without knowing what causes the disease, it is also difficult for us to be able to give you specific advise on prevention or where to walk your dog. We would like to stress that there has been only one case in Northants, but as the disease is fatal in most cases, it is better to be safe then sorry.

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