Cat Scratch Disease? How Cuddly Kittens Can Kill You
The bubonic plague. Smallpox. Cancer. Tuberculosis. Heart disease. HIV/AIDS. Cholera. Malaria.
And now cuddly kitty cats.
Human history is littered with brutal body counts brought on upon by terrible, unforgiving diseases. Now, we have a litter of litter box-using furballs to worry about – kittens.
What in the heck am I talking about? And for the love of all things holy, am I being serious? Yes, dead serious. Kittens can kill.
It’s called cat-scratch disease.
And if you follow Google trends or the top news stories, you’d think that the level of infestation of this disease has reached epidemic levels. Yes, cat-scratch disease can be serious. No, it’s not the cause of the next (or first) zombie apocalypse.
Scientists are now warning us that cat-scratch disease is far more deadly than previously thought.
Recently, a large-scale study conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention looked at cat scratch fever, a bacterial disease also known as cat-scratch disease. The results: The Impact of this sometimes deadly cat-borne disease (also known as lymphoreticulosis) was far greater than expected.
Researchers found that 4.5 outpatient diagnoses occurred for every 100,000 individuals. While this is not considered a huge rate, based on the 2014 US population of 318.9 million, cat-scratch disease potentially impacted 1,435 people. That’s about 30 cases per US state per year, on average.
While this rate was much higher than expected, it’s still very modest compared to so many other diseases and conditions.
- 614,348 heart disease deaths in the past year.
- 591,699 cancer deaths in the past year.
- 136,053 accidental deaths in the past year.
- 76,488 diabetes deaths in the past year.
- 53,282 pneumonia deaths in the past year.
- 8,157 viral hepatitis deaths in the past year.
- 6,955 HIV deaths in the past year.
- 3,697 influenza deaths in the past year.
To put these numbers in perspective, you are 95 times more likely to die from an accidental death than you are to even come down with a mild form of cat scratch fever. In fact, I would wager that more people get injured tripping over their cats than actually coming down with cat-scratch disease.
But this is purely satirical conjecture.
Symptoms and Prevention of Cat-Scratch Disease
It should be noted that stray cats and kittens are much more likely to be carriers of this disease. In general, children aged 3 to 18 have a greater chance of being affected.
Lymphoreticulosis is spread by a scratch from an infected cat, or by petting an infected cat and failing to properly wash your hands. Touching your mouth after an exposure heightens the possibility of contracting this disease.
To help prevent a case of cat-scratch fever, the following guidelines are recommended:
- Avoid trying to catch or pet stray cats.
- If you touch a stray cat, immediately wash your hands.
- Do not kiss kittens, or strays, for that matter.
- Abstain from rough play with kittens and strays.
- Do not allow your house cats to interact with strays.
- Know that fleas from other cats can spread this disease.
CDC expert Dr. Christina Nelson had this to say,
“Cat-scratch is preventable. If we can identify the populations at risk and the patterns of disease, we can focus the prevention efforts.”
Cat-scratch disease symptoms can be brutal. They include:
- Blisters, or small bumps on the skin
- Joint pain
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Damage to the brain – advanced stages
- Death – advanced stages
In most cases, cat-scratch disease doesn’t require treatment. It will heal up by itself. In a minority of cases, antibiotics may be required.
If you believe you have symptoms, seek a medical professional as soon as possible.