Kittens could give you a life-threatening disease with just a lick and a scratch, the CDC warns.
Cats carry a rare bacteria in their mouths and claws called Capnocytophaga canimorsus.
While animals do not suffer ill effects, the bug can cause chronic infections in humans.
And according to the CDC, side effects of the potentially deadly disease are getting worse.
Cats carry a rare bacteria in their mouths and claws called Capnocytophaga canimorsus. While animals do not suffer ill effects, the bug can cause chronic infections in humans
A report published on Wednesday revealed 12,000 Americans a year succumb to ‘cat-scratch disease’, as it is officially known.
It causes fever, fatigue, headaches, and swollen lymph nodes.
In extreme cases it can even cause brain swelling and heart infections.
Unfortunately, CDC researchers say the most cuddly felines – kittens – are the worst culprits.
In a bid to curb the number of outbreaks, officials are urging cat owners not to kiss their pets, and to wash their hands as often as possible.
‘The scope and impact of the disease is a little bit larger than we thought,’ Dr Christina Nelson of the CDC said.
‘Cat-scratch is preventable. If we can identify the populations at risk and the patterns of disease, we can focus the prevention efforts.’
The report tracked infection data between 2005 and 2013.
It is the most comprehensive review of cat-scratch disease cases for 15 years.
Researchers found 12,000 people are infected each year, 500 of whom require hospital attention.
Cases are most common in the South, particularly among children.
The disease comes from a bacteria which is passed from cat to cat.
It is hard to trace the origin of how a particular cat got it. Many pick it up from flea feces.
The CDC said there is some good news: cases of cat-scratch disease are decreasing.
However, the people that do get infected are reporting more serious complications.
Dr Aaron Glatt, chairman of medicine at South Nassau Community Hospital in New York, told NPR the rise in complications could be because more people are immunosuppressed today than 15 years ago.
In a bid to curb the number of outbreaks, officials are urging cat owners not to kiss their pets, and to wash their hands as often as possible
‘Most of the people who get seriously sick from cat-scratch are immunocompromised. The classic example is patients with HIV,’ Dr Glatt said.
Dr Nelson believes it may simply be the case that infections were mis-categorized 15 years ago.
Regardless, she warns owners to refrain from petting cats, especially kittens.
‘Younger cats are more likely to have bacteria in their blood,’ Dr Nelson said.
To minimize your risk of infection, she said, your best bet is to live in a dry, hot state like Colorado.
The report is the latest bit of bad news.
Just last month, global medical experts warned dogs could cause sepsis in humans with just one lick.
Younger cats are more likely to have bacteria in their blood
Dr Christina Nelson of the CDC
The warning came after an elderly British woman became critically ill after her dog licked her.
The 70-year-old ended up in intensive care with multiple organ failure after contracting a rare infection from her Italian greyhound.
It is thought bacteria which can live in cavities in dogs’ mouths was passed on to the woman from her pet because she often petted it closely and let it lick her.
British doctors detailed in the online journal BMJ Case Reports how the woman, who was a non-smoker and rarely drank, nearly died after the infection caused her to develop sepsis.
The condition occurs when the body’s immune system goes into overdrive as it tries to fight an infection.
Known as the ‘silent killer’, sepsis can lead to organ failure and death without rapid treatment.
A relative of the woman, who lived alone, had raised the alarm after she started slurring on the phone and then was unresponsive.
Paramedics found her slumped semi-conscious in a chair and she was taken to hospital.
At first her symptoms improved, but after four days she developed acute kidney failure and was admitted to intensive care.
She recovered after two weeks of intensive care and antibiotic treatment and was discharged 30 days after she was first admitted.
The woman’s case was particularly unusual because she had not been bitten or scratched by her dog.
Doctors reporting the case said: ‘This is an interesting case because neither scratch nor bite was established, although close petting including licks was reported.’