Heads up, cat lovers: Your furry friends may carry a bacteria that can make humans pretty sick. That’s the message from a new report issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the report, the CDC breaks down cat-scratch disease, a potentially life-threatening illness people can get from their cats, and warns against ignoring its symptoms.
Cat-scratch disease is caused by the bacteria Bartonella henselae, which a particular type of flea can spread among felines. Like its name implies, you can get the disease from a cat scratch, but cat bites can also transmit it, board-certified infectious disease specialist Amesh A. Adalja, M.D., an assistant professor at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, tells SELF. About 12,000 Americans contract the disease each year, the CDC reports—although it’s most common in children between the ages 5 and 9—and around 500 people who get cat-scratch disease have to be hospitalized per year.
The first symptom of the illness is raised bumps known as papules at the spot where you were bitten or scratched, Richard Watkins, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at Cleveland Clinic Akron General Hospital in Ohio, tells SELF. However, if it’s left untreated, the infection can progress to enlarged lymph nodes and a fever. Some people also experience fatigue and general malaise, and it can even progress to brain swelling and heart infections in rare occasions, says Watkins.
Most cases of cat-scratch disease go away on their own over time, but some people need to be treated with antibiotics, Adalja says. People who are immunocompromised are at the greatest risk of experiencing complications from the disease, Adalja says.
If you have a cat, there’s no need to stress about cat-scratch disease. Watkins says cats that have Bartonella henselae show no symptoms, and your cat also can’t be vaccinated against this (but strays and cats from pounds have been found to carry a higher frequency of the bacteria than house cats).
Just be aware that it can happen. “It’s rare,” Watkins says. “A lot of people get scratched by their cats and don’t get this.” If you have signs of cat-scratch disease and it’s not getting better, call your doctor to see if a quick bout of antibiotics is in order.
SELF – Culture