Cat-Scratch Disease: How Snuggling With Your Kitten Could Be Deadly

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20/09/2016 11:25 | Updated 21 September 2016

Anyone who has ever owned a kitten knows it’s almost impossible to resist smothering them with kisses and cuddles at every opportunity.

But a new study suggests snuggling with young cats can be detrimental to your health.

In fact, scientists in the US have now suggested a disease passed from cats to humans, called cat-scratch disease, could be deadly.  

But fortunately, experts in the UK have reassured the public the disease is very rare here, affecting between two and 10 people in every 100,000 people. 

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Researchers from the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the US conducted a large-scale study of cat-scratch disease over 15 years. 

According the the CDC, the disease is caused by a type of bacteria called Bartonella henselae, which cats can get infected with from flea bites and flea droppings getting into their wounds.

Kittens are at higher risk than older cats as they have weaker immune systems. 

The disease spreads from a cat to humans 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.

“The infected area may appear swollen and red with round, raised lesions and can have pus,” the site explains.

“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.”

While many humans who come into contact with the disease only experience mild symptoms, the scientists behind the latest study discovered some have severe complications, such as brain swelling or heart infection.

If left untreated, these complications of the disease could be fatal.  

They also found that when a cat owner kissed their pet they had a higher risk of infection.

Commenting on the findings Dr Christina Nelson of the CDC said: “The scope and impact of the disease is a little bit larger than we thought.

“Cat-scratch is preventable. If we can identify the populations at risk and the patterns of disease, we can focus the prevention efforts.”

The scientists warned that cat owners should avoid kissing kitties until more research is conducted into cat-scratch disease. They also advised owners to wash their hands after touching cats.

But Sarah Elliott, clinical veterinary officer at Cats Protection, said cat owners in the UK should not be too worried by the US-based report.

“We’d like to reassure cat owners that the incidence of cat-scratch disease in the UK is extremely low, it affects roughly between two and 10 people in every 100,000,” she told The Huffington Post UK. 

“The disease is caused by a bacterium which is principally carried by fleas and can be deposited on a cat’s face, fur or paws, so regularly flea-treating a pet cat will substantially reduce the risk of infection and ensure owners can continue to stroke their cat without worrying. Seek the advice of a vet as to the best products to use on cats.

“Cat owners should also wash their hands after handling their pet and avoid any rough play which could cause their cat to give them a swipe!”

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