Attention cat lovers: your feline friends may be harboring germs that can make humans seriously sick. Though the threat is small, experts warn that people with pet cats should be aware of the risks and take steps to prevent the illness known as cat-scratch disease. The disease is caused by a bacterium called Bartonella henselae and is transmitted from cats to humans through bites or scratches. Also called cat-scratch fever, the illness can cause symptoms ranging from headache to fever to swollen lymph nodes. In rare instances, the disease can lead to further complications of the brain or heart. 12 Photos 10 scary diseases pets give people Share the love with your animal companion, but carefully. Animals give humans all sorts of illnesses The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report this month estimating the prevalence of cat-scratch disease in the United States. Results showed that each year, about 12,000 people are diagnosed with the illness and 500 require hospitalization. To arrive at those numbers, researchers analyzed national health insurance claims databases from 2005 to 2013 for patients age 65 and younger. “Cat-scratch disease, while rare, still causes a significant number of annual infections, some of which can lead to encephalitis as well as endocarditis, two potentially deadly conditions,” Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, told CBS News. Glatter was not involved in the CDC study. The report showed that incidence of cat-scratch disease was highest among people who live in southern states and among children ages 5 to 9. Cat parasite linked to mental illness, schizophreniaWoman’s pet dog gave her a life-threatening infection Greg Nelson, a veterinarian and director of surgery and diagnostic imaging at Central Veterinary Associates in Valley Stream, New York, told CBS News that the bacteria that causes cat-scratch fever has been found in as many as 35 percent of cats. He emphasized that when you contrast that to the number of cases of infected humans, the risk is very low. “We don’t want people who have cats to panic. The likelihood of your cat possessing this bacteria and giving it to you is extremely small, but with that being said, you shouldn’t play aggressively with your cat or teach them to bite or scratch,” he said. Further steps, such as hand washing after handling cats and cleaning any bites and scratches with soap and water, can also help prevent problems. “Washing your hands helps to remove infectious feces from fleas that may be responsible for transmission of the disease,” Glatter said. If you do get bitten or scratched by a cat, monitor the site closely and contact your physician if you notice swelling or redness, Nelson said. The disease can be treated with antibiotics. He also recommends flea prevention medication, even for indoor cats, as the disease is closely associated with these parasites. If a cat is particularly prone to biting or scratching, it’s best to keep it away from small children, the elderly, or anyone with a compromised immune system, Nelson said, since they are more at risk of developing complications from cat-scratch disease. “If you do all this, you should really have little worry,” he said.
Symptoms of cat-scratch disease A red bump, sore, or blister may develop where a cat has bitten or scratched you. This could happen 3 to 10 days after the bite or scratch. The sore or blister may take a long time to heal. You may experience a low-grade fever (under 102°F), headache, fatigue, or poor appetite.An infection of the lymph nodes can also develop. This happens most often in the glands closest to the scratch or bite. If the scratch is on your arm, the glands in your armpit or near your elbow may become tender and swollen.Call your family doctor if you notice any of the following problems:A cat scratch or bite that is not healing.A red area around a cat scratch or bite that continues to get bigger for more than 2 days after the injury.Fever that lasts for several days after a cat scratch or bite.Painful and swollen lymph nodes for more than 2 or 3 weeks.Bone or joint pain, abdominal pain (without fever, vomiting, or diarrhea), or excessive tiredness for more than 2 or 3 weeks.
An enlarged lymph node in the armpit region of a person with cat-scratch disease, and wounds from a cat scratch on the hand. Cat-scratch disease (CSD) is a bacterial infection spread by cats. The disease spreads when an infected cat licks a person’s open wound, or bites or scratches a person hard enough to break the surface of the skin. About three to 14 days after the skin is broken, a mild infection can occur at the site of the scratch or bite. The infected area may appear swollen and red with round, raised lesions and can have pus. The infection can feel warm or painful. A person with CSD may also have a fever, headache, poor appetite, and exhaustion. Later, the person’s lymph nodes closest to the original scratch or bite can become swollen, tender, or painful. Wash cat bites and scratches well with soap and running water. Do not allow cats to lick your wounds. Contact your doctor if you develop any symptoms of cat-scratch disease or infection. CSD is caused by a bacterium called Bartonella henselae. About 40% of cats carry B. henselae at some time in their lives, although most cats with this infection show NO signs of illness. Kittens younger than 1 year are more likely to have B. henselae infection and to spread the germ to people. Kittens are also more likely to scratch and bite while they play and learn how to attack prey. How cats and people become infected Kitten playing with a person’s fingers. Cats can get infected with B. henselae from flea bites and flea dirt (droppings) getting into their wounds. By scratching and biting at the fleas, cats pick up the infected flea dirt under their nails and between their teeth. Cats can also become infected by fighting with other cats that are infected. The germ spreads to people when infected cats bite or scratch a person hard enough to break their skin. The germ can also spread when infected cats lick at wounds or scabs that you may have. Serious but rare complications People Although rare, CSD can cause people to have serious complications. CSD can affect the brain, eyes, heart, or other internal organs. These rare complications, which may require intensive treatment, are more likely to occur in children younger than 5 years and people with weakened immune systems. Cats Most cats with B. henselae infection show NO signs of illness, but on rare occasions this disease can cause inflammation of the heart—making cats very sick with labored breathing. B. henselae infection may also develop in the mouth, urinary system, or eyes. Your veterinarian may find that some of your cat’s other organs may be inflamed.
There are a number of possible complications from cat scratch fever. Encephalopathy Encephalopathy is a brain disease that can occur when the bacteria responsible for cat scratch fever spread to the brain. In some cases, encephalopathy results in permanent brain damage or death. Neuroretinitis Neuroretinitis is an inflammation of the optic nerve and retina in the eye that causes blurred vision. The inflammation can occur when the bacteria responsible for cat scratch fever travels to the eye, causing impaired vision. Vision usually returns to normal after the infection is gone. Osteomyelitis Osteomyelitis is a bacterial infection in the bones, which can result in bone damage. In some cases, the bone damage is so severe that amputation is necessary. Parinaud Oculoglandular Syndrome Parinaud oculoglandular syndrome is an eye infection that produces symptoms similar to pink eye. Cat scratch fever is one of the most common causes of the syndrome. Parinaud oculoglandular syndrome can be due to Bartonella henselae entering the eye directly, or by the bacteria traveling through the bloodstream to the eye. The syndrome usually responds well to antibiotic treatment. In rare cases, surgery is necessary to remove infected tissues from the eye.
A red bump, sore, or blister may develop where a cat has bitten or scratched you. This could happen 3 to 10 days after the bite or scratch. The sore or blister may take a long time to heal. You may experience a low-grade fever (under 102°F), headache, fatigue, or poor appetite.An infection of the lymph nodes can also develop. This happens most often in the glands closest to the scratch or bite. If the scratch is on your arm, the glands in your armpit or near your elbow may become tender and swollen.Call your family doctor if you notice any of the following problems:A cat scratch or bite that is not healing.A red area around a cat scratch or bite that continues to get bigger for more than 2 days after the injury.Fever that lasts for several days after a cat scratch or bite.Painful and swollen lymph nodes for more than 2 or 3 weeks.Bone or joint pain, abdominal pain (without fever, vomiting, or diarrhea), or excessive tiredness for more than 2 or 3 weeks.