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Allergic to Cats? New Vaccine Could Help

By Jennifer Viegas

Allergic to Cats? New Vaccine Could Help

Did you know that 8 to 10 percent of the population is allergic to cats? If you’re one of those individuals, then the itching, watering eyes and sneezing associated with cats are all too familiar.

Now, a new vaccine holds promise of not just diminishing cat-allergy symptoms, but of curing the problem altogether. An added perk is that, unlike drugs that come with a laundry list of scary side effects, this vaccine has next to none, according to its creator Mark Larche and his team. Here, Larche, a professor at McMaster University’s School of Medicine, explains how the cutting-edge new vaccine could help you or your cat-allergic friends and relatives.

Cat Allergy Cause and Effect
It is a common myth that cat fur itself causes all of the sneezing and wheezing in those who suffer from pet allergies. What’s on the fur, however, turns out to be more important. “Allergies to cats are caused by proteins that are secreted by the cat and spread onto its fur by grooming,” says Larche. “Our vaccine is composed of synthetic fragments of one (the most important one) of these proteins.”

To identify the protein and to learn more about it, he and his team analyzed blood samples from 100 patient volunteers who are allergic to cats. Doing this allowed the scientists to see which components of the protein activate T-cells in certain people. T-cells are helper cells that fight infection in the immune system.

“Allergies are a form of hypersensitivity,” explains Larche. “We all make immune responses to allergens that we encounter in the environment, but most people make a tolerant response that results in no inflammation. However, for reasons that are incompletely understood, some people make the wrong kind of response -- an allergic response.” By providing low doses of the allergen -- tweaked so they don’t contain the parts that may stimulate the immune system -- the researchers came up with the new vaccine.

How Patients Receive Treatments

The vaccine is still only available in drug trials, but it appears that four to eight doses may be required in the first year, with possibly none required for subsequent years. Larche thinks a needle-less injection system could be used to administer the needed doses in the future.

Stephen Durham, head of the Allergy and Clinical Immunology department at Imperial College London, says the data about the new vaccine is very encouraging. “A significant proportion of cat owners develop allergy to their cats, which varies from bothersome eye and nasal symptoms through to moderate-severe disease or even life-threatening asthma attacks,” says Durham. “Avoidance strategies may be impossible or refused.”

Durham mentions that traditional allergy shots pose a risk of serious side effects, “particularly in asthmatics.” This new vaccine promises to provide “good symptom-control and disease remission, while avoiding the risk of side effects,” he adds. Cat-allergy sufferers both with and without asthma have participated in the trials, and so far so good.

Other Ways of Curbing Cat Allergies
Until the new vaccine becomes widely available, the Humane Society of the United States suggests that you try these five steps if your household includes one or more cat-allergy sufferers:

1. Clean your house often to remove dust and cat dander. Vacuum or wash curtains, furniture covers, pet beds and other items.

2. Bathe your pet often. Consult with your veterinarian to make sure that you are doing this correctly and using products that will not deplete your cat’s skin and fur of necessary oils.

3. Set up an allergy-free area. Close this area, such as the bedroom, off to your cat.

4. Consider purchasing a HEPA air cleaner, perhaps just for the allergic individual’s bedroom. Central heating and cooling systems can also be outfitted with stronger filtration systems to help clean the air.

5. Make sure it’s a cat allergy. Many things in the home can cause allergic reactions. Even people who are allergic to cats can be allergic to other things, so be sure the individual receives a thorough checkup from an appropriate specialist.

Some very good news is that the same research know-how that resulted in the new cat-allergy vaccine is being applied to allergies caused by dust mites, ragweed, grass, birch tree and moulds. In the future, most allergies may therefore figuratively bite the dust.

Jennifer Viegas is the managing editor of The Daily Cat. She is a journalist for Discovery News, the news service for the Discovery Channel, and has written more than 20 books on animals, health and other science-related topics.

Tags: cat care

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Posted on June 8, 2012

Claudia says: I have fairly sevree animal allergies and I am able to build up some tolerance to my own animal's dander while other people's animals cause a reaction. The difference also is that your cats dont stay in the house full time. Your friend's home is covered in dander from top to bottom and that is what makes you have an allergic reation there. Some people are more allergic to animal dander than to the fur itself, which is my problem. Dander is made up of dead skin cells that have been shed and old saliva that the animal used to clean itself with. That dander is built up in your friend's house and covers the couches, chairs, rugs, etc. Any movement stirs this dander up into the air and into your nose and lungs and causes the reaction. My animal allergy is very sevree with dogs but not so much with cats. If I go to someone's house that owns a dog, even if the dog is put away I will starts sneezing and wheezing; especially if there are children around running and making the latent dander fly around. I find that although poodles are supposed to be nonallergenic, that they effect me the worse because they have that beard by their mouth that stays wet with drool and I am allergic to that not the fur, which they say is really hair on a poodle.I had 2 cats in my home and just stayed on Zyrtec or Allegra and that was enough to keep my allergies to the cats in check but when I went to my mother's house with 4 cats I would get all sniffled up despite the allergy pills, probably due to the different properties in each cat's dander that I wasnt used to. Nope it isnt that I didnt want to spend time with my parents or was using the allergy as an excuse to cut out early the reaction was quite real. It was also misunderstood because it was hard for others to imagine how I could have cats in my own house but my nose would turn into a virtual faucett at my parent's house. It just depends on if you are allergic to the fur versus the dander I guess.

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