Cat Shelter Epidemics

CAT SHELTER EPIDEMICS….I’ve got a question for anyone who happens to work at an animal shelter. Over the past decade or so it’s become standard practice not to allow visitors to touch cats unless they sterilize their hands first, and even then the attendents hover about attentively, seemingly none too thrilled about having strangers handle the cats regardless. The stated reason is fear of cats catching diseases from all the grubby humans.

I haven’t been out shopping for a cat for years, but I know people who have and they report that this practice has now become ubiquitous, which, needless to say, takes some of the fun and spontaneity out of visiting shelters and looking for a pet. So here’s my question: is the fear of cat epidemics at shelters and pet stores real? Has it actually happened frequently in the past? Occasionally? Almost never but everyone’s paranoid about it anyway?

Can anyone provide an honest to goodness answer? (As opposed to the normal vague bloggy guesses, that is.)