Cat lovers, prepare yourselves for the worst news.
According to a new study, cuddling a cat could give you an infection that could even kill you.
"Cat-scratch disease" is an illness that can result in intense fever, headaches, swollen lymph nodes, pustules and, in rare instances, it can lead to further complications of the brain or heart and even result in death.
Humans can risk contracting the disease just by kissing or cuddling cats, or by being scratched or bitten by them. The illness is caused by a bacteria called Bartonella henselae, which is transmitted to cats by fleas.
The survey, which was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), noted kittens and strays in particular were especially susceptible to carrying the harmful bacteria. The report, which was released this month, showed that each year, about 12,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with cat-scratch disease and 500 require hospitalization.
Researchers analyzed national health insurance claims databases from 2005 to 2013 for people 65 and younger.
"Cat-scratch disease, while rare, still causes a significant number of annual infections, some of which can lead to encephalitis as well as endocarditis, two potentially deadly conditions," Dr. Robert Glatter, an emergency physician at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City who was not involved in the study, told CBS News.
Dr. Christina Nelson, of the CDC, said the scope and impact of cat-scratch disease was larger than they thought.
"Cat-scratch is preventable. If we can identify the populations at risk and the patterns of disease, we can focus the prevention efforts," she said.
Doctors recommend that cat owners wash their hands after petting their cats, clean bites and scratches with soap and water and not let their pets come in contact with strays.
But don't worry too much because the likelihood of contracting the illness is very low.
“We don’t want people who have cats to panic," said Greg Nelson, a veterinarian in New York. "The likelihood of your cat possessing this bacteria and giving it to you is extremely small, but with that being said, you shouldn’t play aggressively with your cat or teach them to bite or scratch," he told CBS News.
If a cat does bite or scratch you, Nelson says to monitor the area closely and contact your doctor if you see swelling or redness. If you contract the disease, it can be treated with antibiotics.
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