Cat Scratch Fever is one of relatively few diseases that can be transmitted from a cat to a person. Diseases that can be transmitted between animals and humans are called zoonotic diseases.
Again, there are only a few cat zoonotic diseases. It is, however, important for you to know what they are, how they can affect you, who they are most likely to target, and the relative risk and seriousness of each disease.
I will be discussing specifically Cat Scratch Fever in this section. However, I will be adding links to pages about each of the most important of these diseases that people can get from cats.
Cat Scratch Fever is a bacterial disease caused by Bartonella henselae. While it is true that cats can spread this bacteria to people, it is rarer and less dangerous than many people believe.
Cats often receive a bad reputation that is not completely deserved because they can transmit such things as cat scratch disease and toxoplasmosis. The incidence of transmission and the severity of disease to most people is far less than often perceived.
Transmission can occur after a bite or scratch from a kitten or cat. Kittens are more likely to be infected.
The CDC reports
that approximately 40% of cats carry the bacteria at some time in their lives. Infected cats do not show symptoms. It is, therefore, impossible to distinguish infected cats from non-infected cats.
Fortunately, even if you acquire a Bartonella henselae infection, it is almost always limited to a mild infection where the scratch or bite occurs. Lymph nodes in the area may become swollen, especially if the injury involves the head, neck, or upper limbs. Fever, headache, fatigue, and a poor appetite may be experienced.
Complications are extremely rare. However, if you are immunocompromised due to HIV infection or immunosuppressive treatment for cancer or organ transplant, you should take extra precautions to avoid more serious complications.
How do you take precautions to avoid getting cat scratch disease from your cat?
(1) Don't play roughly with your cat or new kitten in a manner which can easily lead to your getting scratches or bites.
(2) If you do get scratched, wash immediately and thoroughly with water and soap.
(3) If you have open wounds already from an injury, do not let your kitty lick your wounds.
(4) Control fleas. Bartonella henselae has been found in fleas, although there is no evidence that a flea has ever given the disease to anyone. Better safe than sorry. Fleas need to be controlled at all times anyway for the health of your pets.
To repeat, the risk of contracting cat scratch fever is small and the chance of it turning into a serious infection even smaller. However, if you develop swelling and pus where a cat scratched you or develop the symptoms we talked about (fever, swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, headache), you should always consult your doctor.
Additional useful information about cat zoonotic diseases can be found at Cornell Feline Health Center. Their site is also a great professional source of information about cat diseases in general.