Can humans transmit feline gastroenteritis germs from clothes and infect a cat?

Original Question: Could a volunteer at a cat shelter bring home feline gastroenteritis germs (for e.g. on clothing or hands) and then transmit this illness to his own cat? Thank you. - Charles

Can humans transmit feline gastroenteritis germs from clothes and infect a cat? Sep 29, 2017

Hi Charles,

Thanks for your question.

This would be a legitimate concern but I would place it in the low to medium risk category.

The first point is that there are many viral and bacterial diseases that can be present in feline shelters. The transfer of these entities back to a volunteer’s home is greatly limited through basic disease control efforts, such as hand washing. If clothing is not being changed, it may pose a risk but a small one.

The most infectious entities would be viruses and bacteria that cause upper respiratory tract infections and ocular infections in cats. These are more prevalent in shelters by far and they cause red eyes, runny eyes, sneezing and general ill-thrift.

Gastrointestinal entities are less likely to transfer. They are also more likely to be carried on hands rather than clothes, which reduces the risk as well. Gastrointestinal symptoms in cats can be caused by so many different things that an infectious entity from a shelter is only one possibility. A gastrointestinal disease could be created by entities such as parasites, bacteria and less likely, viruses. If you’re concerned, I would recommend you speak to your veterinarian about parasite testing, an FIV/FeLV blood test and a tritrichomonas test to start. I would also recommend blood testing for other causes of gastrointestinal upset such as pancreatitis and other metabolic issues. More specific and directed testing may include a focal bacterial culture, helicobacter test and upper respiratory viral panel.

Going forward, regardless of the outcome, I would recommend that you have the shelter volunteer thoroughly wash their hands before leaving the facility, change clothes and wash them upon returning home and wearing different footwear. As always, I recommend you have a discussion with your veterinarian.

I hope this helps and good luck.

Dr. Clayton Greenway

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