Ferret epithelium

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Code: e217
Latin name: Mustela putorius
Family: Mustelidae
Common names: Ferret, Household Ferret, Polecat
The word Ferret is generally applied to the domesticated variety (Mustela putorius furo) of the Polecat.
 
Direct or indirect contact with animal allergens frequently causes sensitisation. Animal allergens may be major components of house dust.

Allergen Exposure

Geographical distribution
Common in the Old World, Ferrets have been used for centuries to hunt Rats, Mice, and Rabbits. They are ferocious, and may attack animals much larger than themselves. Domestic Ferrets are found in many colours, including albino, brown, and black. They are Weasel-shaped, and, like all mustelids, have well-developed anal scent glands. Polecats help to control rodent populations in the wild. They have also been hunted for their fur, which is considered valuable, though not as valuable as that of other mustelids such as Mink or Ermine.
 
Environment
Polecats prefer to live along bodies of fresh water, in wetlands, on the edge of forests, or in grasslands with islands of scrub trees. Ferrets, though domesticated, are generally kept outdoors because their odour may be very strong.
 
Allergens
Specific serum IgE from a patient with Ferret allergy was shown to bind to 4 protein bands (103, 81, 28.8 and 14.8 kD) in the male and female urine but none in the hair. IgG-depleted serum bound to 2 additional bands (213 and 41.2 kD) in the urine and to 2 bands (81 and 10.1 kD) in the hair (1).  No allergens have been characterised yet.

Potential Cross-Reactivity

In a report on Ferret allergy, the authors note that in a Mink allergic subject, specific IgG to Ferret interfered with the specific IgE measurement; it is hypothesized that the Mink-allergic subject's serum contained similar competing antibodies (1). Mink is a mammal of the same family as Ferret.

Clinical Experience

IgE mediated reactions
Asthma, allergic rhinitis, allergic conjunctivitis and contact dermatitis (1).
 
A 41-year-old male experienced a near fatal asthma episode after washing his Ferret. He had experienced pruritis and erythema of the skin where he had been in contact with the animal (1).
 
Compiled by Dr Harris Steinman, harris@zingsolutions.com

References

  1. Codina R, Reichmuth D, Lockey RF, Jaen C. Ferret allergy. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2001;107(5):927

As in all diagnostic testing, the diagnosis is made by the physican based on both test results and the patient history.