People have shared their homes with cats for thousands of years. In the United States, there are approximately 95.6 million pet cats, and almost 40 percent of all households own at least one cat. Cats make wonderful companions, but they can also carry diseases that can make people sick. Some of these diseases such as campylobacteriosis and salmonellosis cause signs of disease in cats, while others such as cat scratch disease and toxoplasmosis can be carried by healthy cats without signs of disease.
Cat-related diseases of concern in Ohio include:
Animal bites: cats
Cat bites account for approximately 20 percent of all bites to people reported in Ohio each year. Cat bites can not only transmit rabies but also can result in serious bacterial infections because the puncture wounds created by a cat bite are small but can be deep. Up to 80 percent of all cat bites become infected and, if not treated early, can result in serious complications and hospitalization. If you have been bitten by a cat, consult with your healthcare provider regarding the need for antimicrobial treatment and report the bite to your local health department.
Campylobacteriosis is a gastrointestinal illness of humans and animals caused by Campylobacter bacteria. It is a common cause of diarrhea in kittens and puppies. Campylobacter bacteria are commonly found in the feces of infected animals and in food products contaminated with the bacteria during processing or preparation. Raw or undercooked chicken is one of the most common sources of human infection. Hand-washing and proper food handling techniques are important ways of preventing human infections.
Cat scratch disease
Cat scratch disease is caused by Bartonella henselae bacteria. The bacteria, which do not cause disease in cats, are transmitted from cat-to-cat by fleas. People typically become infected following a cat bite or scratch. Flea control and avoiding cat bites and scratches are important ways of preventing human infections.
Cutaneous larval migrans (hookworm)
Cutaneous larval migrans is a skin disease caused by hookworm larvae. Humans become infected when their skin comes into contact with environments contaminated with hookworm larvae. The larvae penetrate the skin and cause an itchy red tract in the skin. This disease is more common in tropical and sub-tropical climates. Deworming pets, cleaning pet toilet areas regularly and avoiding skin contact with potentially contaminated environments are the best ways to avoid infection.
Dermatophytosis, also known as ringworm, is caused by several species of fungi. Microsporum canis is the most important species found in cats. M. canis causes scaly white lesions with hair loss on the skin of cats, although many cats may be inapparent carriers without signs of disease. People can develop dermatophytosis after contact with infected cats. The disease in humans starts as a small bump in the skin, the hair becomes brittle and the lesion spreads peripherally, leaving scaly bald patches. Treatment is with topical antimycotics.
Plague is a rare infection caused by Yersinia pestis bacteria. It is commonly carried by wild rodents and spread by fleas. Cats can be infected and, in rare instances, have been known to transmit the infection to their owners.
Q fever is a rare infection caused by Coxiella burnetii bacteria. Cattle, sheep and goats are the most common source of infection for humans. However, cats can become infected and will shed the bacteria in large numbers when giving birth. Spaying your cat, avoiding contact with birth fluids and washing your hands after handling newborn kittens are the best ways to avoid getting this infection from your cat.
Rabies virus can infect any species of mammal. It causes encephalitis and is almost always fatal once symptoms develop. It is spread when a person or animal is bitten by an infected animal or, less commonly, when saliva from an infected animal gets into an open wound or onto a mucous membrane. Cats are the most common domestic animal to be diagnosed with rabies in the United States. All bites should be reported to the local health department. Protect your pets by having them vaccinated for rabies. Even indoor cats should be vaccinated because they can be exposed to a rabid bat. Rabid bats are often found inside homes.
Salmonellosis is a gastrointestinal illness of humans and animals caused by Salmonella bacteria. The most common source of infection for humans is through ingestion of food contaminated with Salmonella bacteria. There have also been outbreaks associated with pet food contaminated with Salmonella. Cats can become infected when they eat contaminated food and will shed the bacteria in their feces. Hand washing and proper food handling techniques are important ways of preventing human infections.
Sporotrichosis is a rare disease caused by the fungus Sporothrix schenckii. It lives in soil and can be found worldwide. It occasionally affects cats and will cause ulcerated, draining lesions in the skin. Humans have developed sporotrichosis after contact with these lesions. If you think your cat has sporotrichosis, consult your veterinarian.
Toxoplasmosis is a common disease found in birds and mammals across North America. The infection is caused by a protozoan parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, and affects 10 to 20 out of every 100 people in North America by the time they are adults. Most people do not even know that they have been infected with T. gondii. However, if a woman becomes infected for the first time while she is pregnant, the Toxoplasma parasite can infect the fetus. Infection in the unborn child early in pregnancy can result in miscarriage, poor growth, early delivery or stillbirth. If a child is born with toxoplasmosis he/she can experience eye problems, hydrocephalus (water on the brain), convulsions or mental disabilities. The parasite is shed in the feces of infected cats, particularly kittens. Women should avoid contact with cat feces and kittens while pregnant.
Visceral larval migrans (toxocariasis)
Visceral larval migrans is caused by larvae of dog and cat roundworms migrating through a person’s internal organs. Roundworm eggs are shed in the feces and develop into infective larvae in 2 to 4 weeks in the environment. Deworming your pet, cleaning pet toilet areas weekly and avoiding areas likely to be contaminated by feces are the best ways to avoid this infection.
Last updated: 01/21/2015
Zoonotic Disease Program