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WORKING SAFELY WITH ANIMALS
Occupational Health and Safety for Staff with Substantial Contact with CATS
| Recommended Preventive Measures | Response to Injury | Infectious Diseases | Allergies |
In the research setting, exposure to cats can pose potential health risks to humans such as infection from bites and scratches, allergic responses, and contraction of pathogenic enteric organisms through fecal/oral contact. Although there are risks working with experimental cats, these risks are no greater than the risk you encounter from handling a pet cat.

Cats are generally social animals and respond well to frequent, gentle human contact; however any cat can become fractious when being restrained for procedures. To avoid serious injury from a bite or scratch, training of all personnel working with cats is essential.

RECOMMENDED PREVENTIVE MEASURES

  • Only trained personnel should handle cats. Handling and restraint training can be scheduled through LARC;
  • Gloves and long sleeved apparel should be worn at all times when working with cats;
  • Wash hands after handling animals.

To reduce the risk of exposure to allergens, staff are advised to adhere to the following practices:

  • Dust masks should be worn at all times when working with cats; whenever there is a risk of aerosol transmission of a zoonotic agent, approved respirator masks (e.g., Type N95 by 3M), should be worn instead of dust masks.
  • Minimize wearing protective clothing such as labcoats outside of animal areas and laboratories;
  • Keep transport carriers out of labs/offices/public areas;
  • Use disposable supplies whenever possible;
  • Sanitize lab/surgical areas after animal work.

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RESPONSE TO INJURY

Cats may inflict serious bite and scratch wounds; prompt first-aid is particularly important. Due to the penetrating nature of bites from cats:

  1. Wash any injured site with soap and water for at least 15 minutes;
  2. Control bleeding by applying direct pressure with a sterile gauze or bandage;
  3. Cover wound with clean bandage (do not apply ointment or spray);
  4. Seek advice from emergency room physician.

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INFECTIOUS DISEASES

Cat scratch disease: Caused by the scratch or bite of a cat infected with the rickettsial Bartonella henselae.

  • Reservoir/source of infection: cats;
  • Transmission: bite or scratch;
  • Disease in people: Swelling, regional lymphadenitis, pain. More severe disease (bacillary angiomatosis) in immuno-compromised people.

Pasteurella multocida: has been associated with infected bites and scratches.

Protozoal Diseases

Toxoplasma: A protozoan, Toxoplasma gondii has its complete life cycle only in cats, which are the only source of infective oocysts. Other mammals (including people) may become intermediate hosts, but the life cycle is not completed. The only real risk to lab animal staff is contact with infective oocysts in the feces of cats. Eating undercooked meat and handling soil are also common causes of infection.

  • Reservoir/source of infection: Fecal/oral - contact with oocysts in feces of cats. It takes at least 24 hours for oocysts shed in the feces to become infective, so removal of fresh feces daily reduces the risk of acquiring infection;
  • Disease in People: Mild flu-like symptoms unless immune suppressed (in whom it may cause ocular and neurologic disease). Infection in a previously uninfected pregnant woman can result in prenatal infection of the developing fetus, which can result in birth defects.

Cryptosporidia:

  • Reservoir/source of infection: Many mammals;
  • Transmission: Fecal/oral;
  • Disease in people: Self-limiting diarrhea except in immuno-compromised people where it can be quite severe. No treatment.

Giardia:

  • Reservoir/source: Cats, dogs, non-human primates, other mammals;
  • Transmission: Fecal/oral;
  • Disease in people: Diarrhea +/- other systemic signs.

Campylobacter:

  • Reservoir/source of infection to people: pet and laboratory animals;
  • Transmission: the organism is transmitted via fecal/oral route;
  • Disease in People: Acute gastrointestinal illness; diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and fever. Clinical signs are generally brief and self-limiting. Usually responds to specific antimicrobial therapy.

Ringworm: Dermatophyte infection (most commonly Microsporum spp. and Trichophyton spp.) is commonly known as ringworm because of the characteristic circular lesion often associated with it. Dermatophytes are classified as fungi; may be inapparent in lab animals.

  • Reservoir/source to people: Cats, dogs, wild rodents, humans;
  • Transmission: Direct contact with infected animal;
  • Disease in people: Ringworm is usually self-limiting, often circular with reddened rough skin. Responsive to prescription topical therapy.

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ALLERGIES

Allergies to cat fur and dander are well documented. The major allergen in a cat is a protein (Fel d 1) that is produced in the sebaceous glands of the skin and coats the hair shafts. This protein is also found in saliva of cats.