ATLANTA (CBS) – Americans love their feline friends, but there is a danger that some cat owners may not know about.
A new study from the Centers For Disease Control highlights the risks of “cat-scratch disease,” also known as cat-scratch fever. According to the CDC, there are 12,500 Americans diagnosed with the disease every year, and 500 of those cases are serious enough to require hospitalization.
Cat-scratch fever is caused by the bacteria Bartonella henselae, which is spread by fleas. It can be transmitted to humans through scratches and possibly bites, researchers says.
The illness can lead to symptoms like headaches, fever and swollen lymph nodes. Rarely, cat-scratch fever can cause brain and heart problems.
“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, a New York City emergency physician, told CBS News.
Children are at the greatest risk for cat-scratch fever. The CDC recommends that cat owners reduce risk by treating their cats for fleas, washing hands after touching cats and limit their cat’s time hunting outdoors.
“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,” New York veterinarian Greg Nelson told CBS News.