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New Research Shows Disease Lurks In Cat Fleas

News Release
For Immediate Release

January 11, 2006

New Research Shows Disease Lurks In Cat Fleas: Owners Urged To Use Unique Flea-Killer Treatment

Up to one in five fleas on pet cats are carrying bacterial diseases.

They can infect humans, according to the latest research.

Animal health company Merial NZ Ltd says a unique treatment will help stop humans needlessly catching diseases from their pets' fleas.

New research, from the University School of Veterinary Medicine in the West Indies, shows New Zealand cats and dogs are hosting fleas carrying several bacteria. People can be infected through scratches inflicted by their pets, especially cats, flea bites and contamination of itchy skin.

The study, using fleas taken from cats and dogs at veterinary clinics in Matamata, New Plymouth and Lower Hutt, concludes that emerging human pathogens (disease causing organisms) "are prevalent and widely distributed in cat fleas in the North Island of New Zealand".

It backs other recent findings from a French study of bacteria in cat fleas, which concluded: "Cat fleas may be more important vectors of human diseases than previously reported."

The latest research comes on top of studies showing the number of children being admitted to some New Zealand hospitals with serious skin infections, some resulting from untreated flea 'bites', rising by 61% over a seven year period.

Merial says its flea killer available nationwide is a unique "chemical double whammy" that disrupts the flea's lifecycle – and stops it reproducing.

Merial's technical advisor veterinarian, Dr Maureen Forsyth, of Auckland, says the product, FRONTLINE® Plus, not only kills adult fleas – but also stunts and deforms eggs and larvae.

An "adulticide" interferes with an adult flea's nervous system, effectively exciting them so they die of over activity. And a compound called (S)-methoprene is also used to mimic the flea's naturally occurring growth hormone and can stop most flea eggs developing into pupae. Those that do make it are deformed, providing a single-application product to totally disrupt the flea's lifecycle.

"There have been recent warnings that the number of animals diseases transferring to humans is increasing. Of new diseases emerging, 75% can be transferred from animals to humans. SARS and the bird flu are examples.

"Now the latest research says we should take seriously the prospect of becoming infected with diseases from our pets – because the fleas they host are infected," Forsyth says. "Especially at risk are children, older people and those recovering from major illness".

People can suffer fevers, lymph node swelling, nausea, rashes, headaches and malaise after being scratched by cats. Those with suppressed immune systems can suffer more serious complications. Occasionally, swollen lymph nodes from "cat scratch fever" can last a year.

"However, we should protect ourselves. Effective flea control is an easy answer for every pet owner. For about $1.65 a day for the average pet, the suffering can be greatly reduced," Forsyth says.

New Zealand is now in the midst of its annual flea breeding plague as temperatures go into the "optimum" range starting at 17 to 18 deg C, and humidity reaches 50% or more. These conditions can see a single female lay up to 40 to 50 eggs a day for up to 120 days. Newly emerged adult fleas suck up to 15 times their bodyweight in blood daily.


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