PhotoKittens are among earth’s cuddliest creatures, but it may be wise to forgo a cuddle session with these miniature members of the feline species.

Doctors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently conducted a large-scale survey of cat scratch fever and found that the disease is a bigger concern than previously thought.  

Because a cat’s mouth may contain a rare bacteria called Capnocytophaga canimorsus, getting up close and personal with one could cause fever, pustules, or other unpleasant symptoms.

How it’s spread

“The scope and impact of the disease is a bit larger than we thought,” Dr. Christina Nelson of the CDC told the Telegraph. “Cat-scratch is preventable. If we can identify the populations at risk and the patterns of disease, we can focus the prevention efforts.”

The disease, which is more likely to be carried by kittens and strays, is spread one of two ways: either when you are scratched by an infected cat, or when you don’t wash your hands (and proceed to touch your face) after petting an infected cat.

To help stop the spread of the disease, doctors urge cat lovers to wash their hands after touching cats and to avoid kissing cats. Pet owners should also use flea control methods and do their best to keep their pets from interacting with stray cats and kittens.

12,000 infected each year

Although the disease is still considered rare, researchers say the instances of serious side effects are on the rise. The survey found that 12,000 people are infected by the disease each year, and 500 are admitted to the hospital for it.

Children, the elderly, and people with weak immune systems are most likely to come down with a case of cat-scratch.

Those with weakened immune systems may want to consider adopting cats who are older than one year, as playful kittens who scratch and bite are most likely to carry the disease.

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