Can Humans Contract Cat Diseases?

posted: 05/15/12
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There are very few diseases that can be passed from cats to humans.
Dr. Ken Greer/Visuals Unlimited/Corbis

You're at greater risk of contracting an illness from the person in the next cubicle than of getting a disease from a cat. Most infectious feline diseases affect only cats, just as human ills afflict only people. But some, called zoonotic diseases, can be transmitted between cats and people. Through contact with an infected cat's feces or saliva, infected fleas or ticks, a person could contract a zootonic disease from an animal. Well look at a few common ones.

Cat Scratch Fever

Known as cat scratch fever or cat scratch disease, bartonellis is a bacterial disease that can be transmitted between animals and humans. Cats usually get it from ingesting flea feces while grooming, or from infected ticks. Humans get it from ticks or when scratched or bitten by an infected cat. If an infected cat licks a human's open wound, its saliva can also transmit cat scratch fever. Infected cats may run a fever or have swollen glands. Infected humans may get swollen lymph nodes, fever and headaches; these usually get better on their own, though it may take several months. More severe cases require antibiotics. Humans with compromised immune systems face a greater threat from cat scratch fever, and should find out if the cat that bit or scratched them has this disease.


Humans can also contract roundworm, a parasite common in cats. Roundworm eggs in an infected cat's feces, if ingested by a person, produce a worm that can migrate to a human brain, liver, eye or lung. If the worm invades the eye, permanent blindness can result. The risk of roundworm is higher for children, who may eat dirt contaminated by roundworms, handle animal feces, and neglect washing their hands before touching their faces. Depending on how many roundworms are ingested, symptoms in humans may be non-existent or consist of abdominal pain, vomiting or diarrhea. A doctor can prescribe anti-parasitic drugs to treat the problem.

Cats 101 Animal Planet
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We know you love to cuddle, but keep this mind the next time you want a hug from your cat.
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Toxoplasmosis, a parasitic disease common in outdoor cats, is a risk to pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems. Cats get it from eating infected prey or raw meat; it can also appear in unpasteurized milk. The parasite invades the cat's digestive tract, producing oocysts (zygotes), which the cat sheds in its feces. Contact with the cat's feces can result in an infection in some humans, with infected mothers passing it to their infants. While most infected babies do not show symptoms at birth, later in life they may develop blindness or mental disability. Infected humans can be treated for toxoplasmosis with a combination of drugs, but the parasites can remain in tissue cells indefinitely. Toxoplasmosis in cats can be treated with antibiotics.

Prevent toxoplasmosis by keeping your cat from hunting and if you are pregnant, have someone else handle the litter box. However, you dont need to give away your cat.

Ringworm and Rabies

Unlike roundworm, ringworm (dermatophytosis) has nothing to do with worms. It is a common fungal infection in cats that can be transmitted to humans by direct contact with a cats fur or skin. Contracted from spores that grow in warm, humid environments, from bedding to brushes, or on another infected animal, ringworm will result in bald circular patches on your cat. Its skin may be dry or greasy, and if its nails are infected, they may be malformed. In humans, the infection causes ring-like lesions. While ringworm in cats will cure itself over time, infected humans can apply OTC anti-fungal lotions or powders, and keep skin dry and clean. Although most cases of rabies in humans result from contact with bats or raccoons, any mammal, including cats and dogs, can have the rabies virus (rhabdoviridae), which is why rabies vaccinations for pets are so important. If you're bitten by an animal you believe is rabid, immediately wash the bite with soap and water and a commercial antiseptic like iodine; then seek medical attention. A series of vaccinations administered over a month will treat the virus, which is always fatal if untreated. If the cat's rabies shots are not up to date or if it hasn't been vaccinated, it should be quarantined for 45 days and observed for signs of rabies.

Baylisascaris, aka Raccoon Roundworm
Animal Planet

The Truth About Feline AIDS and Herpes

Humans cannot get these diseases from cats, because they are feline-specific illnesses. FIV (feline immunodeficiency virus), sometimes referred to as feline AIDS, weakens the cat's lymphatic system, and ultimately attacks its entire immune system. FIV is from the same virus strain as the feline leukemia virus (FeLV) and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) which causes AIDS. No cure exists for FIV, although FIV-positive cats can live several years after contracting the illness. Cats usually get FIV through a bite from another cat.

Feline herpes (FVH-1) is a virus that causes upper respiratory infection in cats. Sneezing, runny eyes and nose, and sometimes inflammation of the cat's eyelid lining, result from FVH-1 infection. Discharges from another cat's eyes, nose or mouth transmit the disease, often via food or water dishes. While there's no FVH-1 cure, medications can control it, and a vaccine to prevent it is available.

Staying Safe from Cat Diseases

Fighting cat illnesses takes common sense and cleanliness. Always wash your hands after touching your cat and follow a regular flea-control program. Carefully handle your cats litter box, avoiding soil contaminated by feces. Following these few suggestions will greatly lessen your chances of catching any diseases from your feline friend.

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