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Cat-scratch fever is more serious than we thought, but there's no reason to panic

When she's not writing, Claire Gillespie can most often be found wiping snotty noses, picking up Lego, taking photos of her cat or doing headstands.

Here's the scoop on cat-scratch fever so you can carry on loving your cat without fearing for your life

All cat owners know that cuddling is part and parcel to life with this particular four-legged creature. I mean, it's one of the biggest perks of cat ownership. There's nothing like a warm, sleepy cat curled up on your lap, purring softly as you rub their ears. So why has science had to go and ruin it all by telling us cuddling our cats could kill us?

More: 8 life hacks guaranteed to make having a cat as easy as you thought it would be

A survey carried out by doctors at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that a cat-born disease called "cat-scratch fever" is potentially dangerous to humans and can even be fatal. It was once thought to be mild, but following this survey — the first large-scale study on the disease in 15 years — cat owners are being warned to think twice before lavishing too much affection on their moggies.

So what do we need to know about CSF? It's an infectious bacterial disease that can be transferred to humans if an infected cat licks an open wound or bites or scratches someone's skin hard enough to break the surface. It can take up to 14 days for the infection to appear, and common symptoms are fever, headache, exhaustion, swelling and raised lesions on the skin and loss of appetite.

More: People have been putting their cats in dresses since 3100 B.C.

CSF is a rare disease — the CDC survey found that the annual incidence was 4.5 outpatient diagnoses per 100,000 population — but it's definitely still one to be aware of. If left untreated, it can affect the brain, eyes, heart and other internal organs. At least one death has been reported from CSF since 2007 — a healthy 6-year-old boy.

About 40 percent of all cats carry the proteobacteria Bartonella henselae at some point in their lives. The bacteria can only thrive in cats with fleas, meaning it's most likely to be present in stray cats. And kittens are more likely to transfer the infection simply because they love to scratch and bite.

Here's what to do to keep CSF out of your home: 

  • Wash wounds from a cat bite or scratch right away
  • Wash hands thoroughly after playing with, carrying or cuddling a cat
  • Avoid kissing cats
  • Keep your cat indoors to stop it from interacting with stray cats
  • Ensure your cat is protected from fleas
  • Avoid adopting a kitten younger than a year old if you have a weakened immune system

The bottom line? Relax, people. Yes, there is a small chance you could catch CSF, but you don't have to panic. Keep your cat up-to-date with their flea meds, get into the habit of disinfecting after any bites or scratches and return to your regularly scheduled kitty cuddles.

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