You may have seen some headlines popping up telling you to stay away from your cat at all costs in the name of avoiding a terrifying thing called "cat-scratch fever" or "cat-scratch disease." If you've created a barrier between yourself and your cat, or put it in some sort of anti-disease shield, like this lil guy, you need to reevaluate your life, stat.
The bad news: Yes, cat-scratch disease is a real thing, and a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that while the number of people becoming infected by the disease has decreased, the severity of the illness has increased. The good news: It's actually really rare, and there's a pretty slim chance you're going to get seriously sick from chilling with your furry friend.
To put it in perspective, staying away from kittens because you're scared of getting cat-scratch disease is like never eating a burger again because you're afraid of food poisoning or never going for a run outside again because you're afraid of getting struck by lightning.
And, really, how can you resist this face?
For starters, here's cat-scratch disease 101: It's a bacterial infection that you can only get by being scratched or bitten by an infected cat or kitten (and sometimes a dog), according to Mt. Sinai Hospital. The pet picks up the infection from bacteria found in fleas. Symptoms include a crusting sore or blister that forms over a scratch or bite, swollen and painful lymph nodes, a low fever, and flu-like symptoms such as weakness, nausea, chills, loss of appetite, and body aches. It usually clears up without treatment, but in some cases can worsen into a more serious infection like parinaud ocularglandular syndrome (an eye problem similar to pinkeye), osteomyelitis (a type of bone infection), encephalitis (swelling of the brain), or endocarditis (infection of the heart's inner lining). (Even more bad/strange news: The crazy-cat-lady stereotype might actually be backed by science.)
This all sounds so terrible, but before you freak out, know this: The incidence of cat-scratch disease is only about five in 100,000 people, and the main age group affected is 5- to 9-year-old children, according to the CDC's study of insurance cases reported between 2005 and 2013. Plus, the serious illnesses that result from cat-scratch disease typically only happen to people with suppressed immune systems (such as those affected by HIV and AIDS, or the elderly).
At this point you should be slowly inching closer and closer to your cat because, seriously, there's nothing to be afraid of.
Your risk of getting cat-scratch disease is pretty darn low, and the risk of it turning into something more than a cold/flu situation is even lower. And get this—you can take steps to reduce that risk even further. Cats can only get the disease from bacteria carried by fleas (remember), so keeping your pets flea-free will keep you in the clear, too.
We know—you're relieved. Go grab your cat and get your cuddle on. (Or go for some cat yoga—yes, that's a real thing.)