There are various diseases which can be spread from cats to people, and these are called zoonoses. Although such illnesses can be worrying, there is no need to be seriously concerned, to the extent of either not keeping a cat or seeking an alternative home for an existing pet, in spite of occasional media scare stories. Provided that you take a few sensible precautions, there are no serious health concerns about keeping a cat as a member of your household.
Cats live alongside people in millions of households around the world. Although the risk of infection is small, it is not advisable to share your bed with a cat for reasons of general hygiene.
Is there anything particular to consider with the children?
Teach children how to pick up a cat safely so that it doesn’t scratch them. They should always wash their hands after playing with a cat.
What can I do to protect myself against toxoplasmosis from cats?
Toxoplasmosis is a hazard to pregnant women because it can cause miscarriage. They should therefore avoid changing litter trays and wear gloves when gardening, because this parasite is distributed in soil by animal faeces.
Should I wash our cat’s bowl separately from our plates?
It’s advisable, as cats can carry bacteria such as Campylobacter and even Salmonella, which cause food poisoning. This measure will reduce the risk of cross-infection.ndoubtedly the most serious zoonosis which can be spread from cats to people is the viral disease known as rabies.
RABIES THREAT FROM CATS
In most parts of the world where the virus exists, routine vaccination for cats will protect them and members of their household. The UK is one of the few rabies-free countries in the world due to its strict quarantine laws. Rabies is spread via saliva, with a bite being the most likely way of transmitting the virus, but it can also enter the body through an existing injury to the skin.
CAT SCRATCH FEVER
A more specific infection is Japanese cat scratch fever. This is the result of a bacterial infection due to bites as well as scratches, which leads to a fever. It can be treated with antibiotics. Cats routinely carry unpleasant bacteria in their mouths and if you are bitten, it is important to clean and treat the wound thoroughly with an antiseptic to minimise the likelihood of infection. Otherwise, the affected area is likely to become painful and swell up, and will require medical treatment.
If you think that your cat is likely to bite in particular situations, then it is sensible to wear a thick pair of gauntlets, such as gardening gloves, to protect your hands. Ringworm is another hazard which can be spread to people by direct contact, causing characteristic circular reddish patches, often on the forearms. Signs of this infection are less obvious in cats, but areas of hair loss are suggestive of ringworm.
- Ringworm — one of the most common of all zoonoses — is actually caused by a fungus, rather than a parasite.
- Cats were blamed for transmitting plague, and killed in large numbers during the Great Plague of 1665, but in actual fact, it was the fleas found on rats which spread the disease.