Warning: Playing with your cat could be hazardous to your health.

According to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there’s been an uptick in the number of people who have developed serious complications from cat-scratch disease.

Bacteria, often transmitted to cats through fleas, is responsible for the disease, also known as cat-scratch fever. Though cats do not get sick from the bacteria, they become carriers and can transmit the bacteria to humans through bites, scratches or, in some cases, by licking an open wound or scrape on a human.

Symptoms include fever, swollen lymph nodes and headaches, as well as redness and swelling around the site of the scratch or bite. In extreme cases, the disease can lead to swelling of the brain, a potentially fatal complication.

Cat-scratch disease can be treated with antibiotics, the report noted.

Those most at risk are children between 5 and 9 and people living in southern states. Young children are more vulnerable because of their close interaction with cats, the researchers think. Fleas thrive in warmer climates, making the South a more hospitable environment.

To prevent cat-scratch disease, the CDC recommends hand washing after touching cats and cleaning any scratches or bites that break the skin with soap and water. The center also discourages people from roughhousing with their cats, provoking them to bare their claws or teeth. Other tips include keeping cats indoors and treating them for fleas.

The recent CDC report was the first large-scale study of cat-scratch disease in 15 years. Investigators combed through data from health insurance claims from 2005 to 2013 and discovered the rise in serious problems from cat-scratch disease.

“We estimate that each year, 12,000 outpatients are given a [cat-scratch disease] diagnosis and 500 inpatients are hospitalized for CSD,” the researchers wrote in their report.


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