Allergic to Cats? A New Vaccine Could Help

A person with cat allergies either has to stay away or treat symptoms. Elizaveta Galitckaia/Shutterstock

There may be new hope for people who love cats but get all sniffly and sneezy whenever they're around.

Scientists in Zurich say they've developed a vaccine to help people who are allergic to cats. Fortunately for the people (but not so much for the cats), the vaccine is given to cats and not the people who have the allergies.

Cat allergies are usually caused by the protein Fel d 1, which is found in a cat's skin, saliva and urine, reports Smithsonian. When a cat cleans itself by licking its fur, the saliva is then chock full of the protein. It dries on the cat's fur and soon becomes airborne. About 10% of people are allergic to pets. But because of this unique protein, cat allergies are twice as common as dog allergies, according to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America.

Typically, people with cat allergies just treat their symptoms or try to avoid cats.

In a new study published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, researchers say this new vaccine may be a better solution. The vaccine immunizes cats against their own protein.

The vaccine, called HypoCat, contains neutralizing antibodies that cause a cat's immune system to target the protein and destroy it. Developers say more research is needed and expect that it could be available to cat owners in a few years.

Edible allergy control

Similarly, another study earlier this year found a way to help people with cat allergies. Researchers fed an antibody to Fel d 1 to cats and people with allergies benefited. When 105 cats were fed the antibody for 10 weeks, the amount of active protein on the cats' hair dropped by an average of 47%.

In a small pilot study, 11 people who were allergic to cats were exposed to hair from cats who were on this special antibody diet. They had considerably reduced nasal allergy symptoms and their eyes weren't as itchy and scratchy as when they were exposed to cats on a regular diet.

The study, which was published in Immunity, Inflammation and Disease, was conducted by researchers from pet food–maker Nestle Purina.

And before you pity the cats who have to take the antibody, it's because it just won't work for people to take it.

When humans take the antibodies orally, the molecules are broken down and never reach their intended targets, Michael Blaiss, executive medical director of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology and an allergist and immunologist at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta, tells Science News.

Blaiss says he thinks the edible antibodies treatment might help people with mild cat allergies. But those with severe symptoms probably won't get much relief.

"It just depends on the [fel d 1] levels of the cat and the symptomology of the patient," he says.

As in the vaccine study, this product is still being researched and isn't available yet.