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Thursday, 12 November, 1998, 18:33 GMT
The moggie menace
Cat
Cats carry a dangerous virus
Cats have been found to carry a virus that causes acute depression in humans.

The discovery, reported in The Veterinary Record, the journal of the British Veterinary Association, was made by the veterinary pathology unit at Bristol University.

Victims of Borna disease virus (BDV) suffer from depression, exhaustion and walking difficulties. The virus has been linked to farmers' suicides.

BDV was first identified in Germany in 1785. It is found naturally in a wide range of animal species, including horses, sheep, goats and cattle.

It was first detected in human patients with psychiatric illnesses in 1996.

The virus was found in 10 cats out of 111 submitted to the Bristol University lab for tests to find more cases of the feline form of mad cow disease.

A number of the cats had suffered a range of nervous disease and other problems. The researchers say no direct link between the virus and disease has been established.

But they write: "In view of the known wide host range of BDV it is important that the prevalance of the infection in other domestic species in the UK is elucidated."

Pets can be positive

Cow
The virus has also been found in cattle
The Pet Health Council issued a statement in which it said that the sample tested by Bristol University was unlikely to be representative of the cat population at large, and that there was no current evidence to suggest a link between animal species and humans.

"It is important for cat owners to keep this issue in perspective, to continue to follow the usual and well established hygiene routines with their pet and remember the benefits, including health, that pets provide."

Other studies have shown that stroking pets can be therapeutic and reduce the risk of depression.

BDV is being investigated by the Health and Safety Executive as part of a project to identify illnesses that can be contracted from animals.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food said: "Only limited tests have been carried out at the moment and we do not know the extent to which this virus causes illness."

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