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Even if you do not own one, cats and kittens can be hard to avoid. After all, many feline owners allow their animals to roam freely in neighborhoods across New Jersey. Your friends and family members may also have cats in their homes.

If a cat scratches, bites or licks you, you may be vulnerable to cat scratch fever. The illness develops after exposure to Bartonella henselae, a type of bacteria that lives in the mouths of 30% to 40% of domesticated cats in the U.S.

How does bacteria infect cats?

The Bartonella henselae bacteria spreads through infected fleas. If healthy cats bite fleas or fight with an infected animal, the contagious germ may enter their bodies. Some infected cats may show no symptoms, while others may show symptoms of a serious infection. These include vomiting, lethargy, swollen lymph nodes and weight loss.

What are the symptoms of cat scratch fever?

In humans, the symptoms of cat scratch fever are similar to the ones cats exhibit. Contact your doctor if you develop any of the following symptoms after an animal attack:

  • Low- or high-grade fever
  • Nausea, vomiting or loss of appetite
  • Dizziness, confusion or insomnia
  • Headaches
  • Swollen glands

What complications may you face?

While anyone is susceptible to cat scratch fever, children and teenagers are particularly at risk. Fortunately, the illness may resolve on its own without medical intervention. In some cases, though, cat scratch fever leads to serious complications. These include chronic joint pain, organ damage and even death.

To minimize your chances of developing an illness-related complication, you must closely monitor both your symptoms and your recovery. If your health is not improving, you may need follow-up or specialist care.