CDC study points to more serious complications from cat scratches, bites

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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) – Fall is one of the worst seasons for fleas and the moisture left from Hurricane Matthew didn’t help.

If you’ve ever been around a cat, you know scratches and bites come with the territory.

A new study shows you may want to pay closer attention to those wounds because they could turn into a deadly illness.

Cat-Scratch Disease, as the name suggests, is spread by cats through scratches, bites or allowing a cat to lick an open wound or scrape.

“The reason why it’s called scratch disease is because feral cats that may have a flea infestation. If they scratch you, they can basically inoculate the skin with flea dirt which is dried blood that the fleas have passed as a feces and that’s what cause the infection,” Dr. Samantha Karl, Tenth Street Animal Hospital explained.

A new study done by the CDC shows people are having more serious complications than researchers originally thought. Symptoms typically involve fatigue, fever and swollen lymph nodes.

“It’s a bacteria that is an organism,” Dr. Karl continued. “So it’s kind of similar to what causes Lyme Disease.”

And in a small number of cases, Cat-Scratch Disease can cause the brain to swell or infect the heart, which can turn deadly.

“In people, especially if you have some sort of immune suppression, I know it can cause some pretty serious disease and the neurological system,” added Dr. Karl.

The study found each year, more than 12,000 people are diagnosed with the disease. More than 500 required hospitalization.

Researchers poured over data from health insurance claims from 2005 to 2013.

Nearly 40 percent of cats carry the bacterium that causes the illness at some point in their lives.

Dr. Karl said cat scratch disease is preventable, “Keeping them on flea and tick control every month year-round in eastern North Carolina, even in the winter months, sometimes the weather gets pretty warm. In some of these insects or the tick can be more common, even in a warm spell. And that’s how they can get the disease.”

Dogs can also carry the disease.

Dr. Karl said many of the pets are asymptomatic, meaning they don’t show any signs of the disease.

The CDC recommends washing cat bites and scratches immediately with soap and water.

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