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Tuesday, January 27, 1998 Published at 01:08 GMT


Cats spread asthma - report
image: [ The PM's wife Cherie was allegedly allergic to Humphrey the former Downing Street cat ]
The PM's wife Cherie was allegedly allergic to Humphrey the former Downing Street cat

Cats are to blame for leaving their owners and complete strangers stricken with asthma, according to a new scientific report.

Researchers in Manchester say that the feline friends are spreading a cat-allergen, which is striking down people even if they stay clear of the pets.

The researchers found that the dust allergen has been found not only in the pets' homes but also in hospitals, pubs and cinemas.

Dr Adnan Custovic and colleagues at Manchester's Wythenshawe Hospital wrote in the medical journal Thorax that passive exposure to the cat allergen may pose as significant a risk as direct contact with cats for those susceptible to suffering from asthma.

[ image: Socks: Spreading asthma in the White House?]
Socks: Spreading asthma in the White House?
Dr Custovic said: "Perhaps one ought to think in terms of community exposure to pet allergens, rather than just domestic exposure.

"Such exposure may be sufficient to cause sensitisation in those susceptible individuals who have never been pet owners.

"Subsequent pet ownership may then put them at risk of developing symptomatic disease."

The allergen blamed for spreading asthma derives from a protein, called Fel d 1, produced in a cat's skin.

It collects in the fur, attaches to dust particles and is then blown through the air.

Researchers say that even a brief exposure to the allergen can trigger an acute asthma attack in the worst sufferers.

The team's research found that up to a third of asthmatics who react to the allergen owned a cat and up to 40% of asthmatic children are also sensitive to the allergen.

They collected evidence from 50 homes with cats and 75 without pets.

They found that while all the pet-owning homes had the allergen, up to a third of the homes without cats also had the allergen. Owners' homes have allergen levels 260 times greater than non-owners' homes.

Sofas and living room carpets contained the highest levels of the allergens while mattresses had lower levels.

[ image: Scientists say get rid of the cat if you suffer from asthma]
Scientists say get rid of the cat if you suffer from asthma
Around one quarter of public places included in the research also had the allergen, including hospitals, pubs and cinemas.

The research recommends removing cats from homes of asthma sufferers but went on to warn it could take months for allergen levels to fall significantly.

A spokesman for the National Asthma Campaign said: "Pets can be great fun and a wonderful source of companionship.

"Unfortunately animals are also a common allergic trigger of asthma symptoms.

"The allergens are found in the pet's fur, saliva, minute flakes of skin and urine.

"If someone in your family has asthma, or if there is a family history of asthma, don't buy furry or feathered pets."

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