If our little furry companions are adorable and overflowing with affection, having a cat at home can be a real obstacle course for people who are allergic to their hair. Indeed, in 2017, no less than 10 million domestic cats were counted, and a quarter of the French population said they were allergic to these little felines. And if science had finally succeeded in developing a vaccine to counter this allergy?
What is the cause of cat hair allergy?
It is often mistakenly thought that the allergy is due to cat hair itself: it is in fact an allergic reaction to a protein, called Fel d1. It is present in the salivary glands and in the epidermis of the cat, and therefore spreads on the hair when it licks itself. This protein is not yet fully present in kittens, which is why the allergy usually occurs only when they become adults.
This allergy manifests itself by different symptoms more or less accentuated according to the sensitivity of the allergic persons:
- Itchy, watery and reddened eyes, which can even lead to conjunctivitis.
- Blocked nose, itching and sneezing are very frequent. This is called allergic rhinitis.
- Itchy and scratchy throat.
- Respiratory discomfort that can go as far as asthma, due to bronchial obstruction.
- Skin rash, also called urticaria.
- In some rare cases, discomfort that can go as far as anaphylactic shock has been observed in allergic people.
Some tips can already be implemented when you are allergic: air your house regularly, brush your cat several times a week to avoid hair falling out, and vacuum your floors often.
If this is not enough, it is possible to take an anti-allergy treatment similar to the one often recommended in case of grass or pollen allergy: it is generally antihistamines or decongestants. They should be taken over time to reduce allergic reactions as much as possible.
It is also possible to use a more radical solution, which consists of desensitization. This process aims at incorporating micro quantities of the gene in question for a long time in the body, in order to accustom it so that it does not react to it afterwards. However, this method is less effective for cat hair allergy than for pollen allergy.
A vaccine against cat hair allergy?
The good news is that researchers at the University of Zurich have succeeded in developing a vaccine that has been proven to neutralize the gene responsible for the allergy. It should be available within two to three years, and will significantly reduce or even eliminate the symptoms of a reaction to the Fel-d1 protein.
The principle? This vaccine, which will be injected directly into the felines themselves, will allow them to produce antibodies directly via a mixture of the protein in question and a virus that will generate a protective reaction.
The miracle vaccine was named Hypocat, and tested on more than 50 cats who all reacted in the same way: stopping the secretion of the protein concerned, and/or producing defensive cells aimed at destroying the incriminated protein.
The allergy to this protein having sometimes very harmful consequences for the health, the discovery of this vaccine would allow to reduce considerably the number of abandonments due to allergies, and to allow the happy owners of cats to live serenely with their small furry animal.