Cats now outnumber dogs in the census of household pets. Many people opt for a cat because felines thrive in spite of being left alone all day, and they generally require less care and attention than dogs. Cats are well-adapted to the indoor environment and are healthier if kept indoors, particularly in a city environment.
Most cat scratches are superficial - all that is necessary is to wash the wound with soap and water. Cat bites, however, can easily become infected, since a cat's teeth are long and sharp and may inflict a deep wound. Cat saliva, like any saliva, carries bacteria. If a cat bites you deeply, you should get medical help - you may need a tetanus shot and antibiotics. Deep scratches may also require a tetanus shot and medical treatment.
Cat-scratch disease, which occasionally develops after a person has been scratched, is characterized by a swelling at the site and in nearby lymph glands and flu-like symptoms. It is chiefly a childhood affliction. In its first few days, the body battles fever, extreme fatigue, irritability, inflamed lymph nodes, headaches, blurred vision and watery eyes.
Treatment with antibiotics speeds recovery in some patients, but everyone struggles with relapses for about six months until the disease runs its course.
The culprit is not the cat exactly, but a bacterium found in the animal's blood called Rochalimaea henselae. For a person to get sick, the bacterium has to get underneath the skin - most commonly from a scratch or bite.
A cat's claws become contaminated when it scratches itself; teeth are exposed when gum disease causes blood loss in the mouth. Cats of any age are carriers, but most people with cat-scratch disease have had contact with a kitten. Young cats are more likely than adults to carry R. henselae, and by nature scratch and bite more frequently.
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