Cat-scratch fever — a real illness and a real threat

cat scratching Cat-scratch fever isn’t just a ’70s rock song. It’s an actual disease cats can carry and transfer to people. An estimated 12,000 Americans a year are infected and about 500 end up in the hospital, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The disease is most common among children ages 5 to 9 years old and in people who live in the southern U.S. Men between the ages of 50 and 64 are most likely to be hospitalized from the disease.

Infected fleas spread the bacterial disease when cats scratch and groom flea excrement in their fur. An infected cat can pass the disease to you if it scratches or bites you or makes contact with broken skin.

Symptoms of cat-scratch fever, also known as cat-scratch disease, include a bump or blister where you were infected, fatigue, headache, overall discomfort and possible fever. Lymph nodes near the infection site may also become swollen or painful. Most healthy people recover without treatment but antibiotics are used to treat the condition in severe cases and in people with a weakened immune system.

To help prevent cat-scratch fever:

  • Avoid playing roughly with cats, particularly strays and kittens.
  • Wash hands immediately after handling cats.
  • Keep your pet cats indoors and away from strays.
  • Check with your veterinarian about treating your cats for fleas.