What Is Cat-Scratch Disease? This Infection Is Far More Common Than You Might Think

Cat lovers beware: your furbaby’s playful nips and scratches may require more than just a bandaid. A recent study released by the CDC has found that cat-scratch disease, sometimes called cat-scratch fever, is far more common than originally thought. “What is cat-scratch disease?” you may wonder while cautiously reaching out to pet your feline companion. Cat-scratch disease (CSD) is a bacterial infection that, while not deadly, can make you seriously sick and in some cases require hospitalization. A hearty bacterium called bartonella henselae can be transferred from cat to cat by fleas and droppings. It is transmitted to humans through scratches, bites, or when a cat licks and open wound (so gross, please don’t do that). They may be cute and cuddly, but 40 percent of all cats carry the bacterium that can lead to CSD at some point their lifetime.

So how do you know if you've contracted CSD? After claw to skin contact has been made, symptoms usually take between three and 14 days to manifest, and are inline with most infections. The infected area may appear swollen, red, and painful with raised round lesions, accompanied by a headache, fever, fatigue, poor appetite and swollen lymph nodes. Cat-scratch disease is no joke — in very rare cases the infection may even spread to the the brain, eyes, or heart.

If you're a healthy twentysomething looking to adopt a cat, there is no need to reconsider. The young, elderly, and those with weak immune systems are most likely to be affected by cat-scratch fever. So it's best to keep your baby cousin away from your new kitten, not matter how much they want to give the furball a squeeze.

To investigate just how prevalent cat-scratch disease is in the U.S., the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reviewed MarketScan health-insurance claims over an eight year period. From 2005 to 2013 they found 13,273 reported cases of cat scratch disease, 538 of which required hospitalization.

The CDC estimates that each year there is approximately 12,000 cases of CSD, 500 of which lead to serious complications. The numbers may be low, but as Today notes the number of cases resulting significant side effects has risen. CSD was most frequent among those who live in the Southern states and in children between the ages of five and nine. Those who required hospitalization were more likely to be males between the ages of 50 and 64.

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Thankfully, the infection is treatable with antibiotics. To avoid a trip to the hospital, take precautionary measures. Immediately wash any area that has been punctured by your cat’s claws with soap and water, and do not teach your cat to play rough. Be sure to be a good cat mamma and keep your kitty up-to-date on their flea prevention medicine — even if it doesn't leave your apartment. Follow these steps and you can snuggle your feline without the fear.

Images: Pexels (1, 2), Giphy