Sure, cats are adorable and fun, but can they be dangerous? A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has highlighted some of the dangers of owning felines, particularly when they scratch or bite you.

The report has found that cat scratch disease, which is also known as “cat scratch fever,” has more serious complications than doctors and researchers originally thought. The bacterial infection, which is passed to cats by fleas and then spread to humans through scratches, bites or allowing a cat to lick an open wound or scrape, can have serious complications such as heart and brain damage when left untreated. Other side effects include headache, fever, and swollen lymph nodes, USA Today reported.

The report also uncovered the prevalence of the disease, and highlighted that although it was extremely rare, each year about 12,000 people are diagnosed with cat-scratch disease, and of these, 500 require hospitalization. These incidences were highest in the U.S. southern states and in households with children aged 5 to 9.

Thankfully, the disease is mostly preventable, and you don’t have to give up your kitty to be safe. According to the CDC, washing your hands after playing with a cat, keeping a cat indoors, and treating it for fleas can all help reduce your chances of becoming infected. Flea control is particularly helpful in southern states and households with young children.

Cat scratch disease is an infection caused by the bartonella bacteria, Medline Plus reported. A blood test is the most accurate way to test for this infection, but the disease is still often hard to diagnose. If you are diagnosed with cat scratch disease, treatment often consists of taking a course of antibiotics. However, for those with compromised immune systems, such as HIV patients, cat scratch disease can lead to serious complications such as encephalopathy and neuroretinitis, two types of serious brain diseases.

Source: Nelson CA, Saha S, Mead PS. Cat-Scratch Disease in the United States, 2005–2013. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2016

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