United States: Cat Diseases And Parasites That Can Infect People

Last Updated: May 3 2016
Article by Nancy E. Halpern, DVM, Esq.

Pets are increasingly important in this and other developed countries.

Many pet owners are unaware of the diseases and parasites their pets may harbor that can cause illness to humans. This is one reason that proper veterinary care through routine visits to a veterinarian is so important.

The transmission of diseases between people and pets is the basis for the "One Health Initiative" whose goal is to "unite human and veterinary medicine." Check out their website, where you will find information about the history of this organization and the important work they are undertaking to share information about the new or re-emerging diseases, 70% of which are zoonotic (spread between animals and humans) or vector-borne (transmitted by vectors, including insects).

As recently discussed here, cats, like other animals can harbor and transmit a number of diseases and parasites to humans. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the leading public health institute in the United States, contains a plethora of scientific information and data on its website, including "[t]he most common diseases associated with cats that can cause human illness."

The description of these diseases and parasitic disorders is republished below to demonstrate why it is so important for cat owners to take of their pets, which, in turn will help keep all family members healthy.

Campylobacteriosis

Campylobacter is a type of bacteria that spreads through contaminated food (meat and eggs), water, or contact with stool (poop) of infected animals. Cats infected with Campylobacter may show no signs of illness at all or may have diarrhea.

Most people who become sick with campylobacteriosis will have diarrhea, cramping, abdominal pain, and fever within 2-5 days after exposure to the organism. Campylobacter bacteria can cause serious life-threatening infections in infants, older persons, and those with weakened immune systems.

Cat-scratch Disease (Bartonella henselae)

Cat-scratch disease is a bacterial disease that people may get after being bitten or scratched by a cat. About 40% of cats carry the bacteria at some time in their lives, although kittens younger than 1 year of age are more likely to have it. Most cats with this infection show no signs of illness.

People who are bitten or scratched by an affected cat may develop a mild infection 3-14 days later at the site of the wound. The infection may worsen and cause fever, headache, poor appetite, and exhaustion. Later, the person's lymph nodes closest to the original scratch or bite can become swollen, tender, or painful. Seek medical attention if you believe you have cat-scratch disease.

Cheyletiellosis

Cheyletiellosis is a mild, short-term skin inflammation caused by mites that feed on skin cells. Cheyletiella is spread through contact with infested animals. Pets such as rabbits and adult cats may not show signs of infestation. However, affected kittens may have patches of scaly skin with dandruff.

The most common symptoms of cheyletiellosis in people include itching, redness, and raised bumps on areas of the skin that touched the infested animal. Cheyletiellosis in people generally resolves on its own.

Cryptosporidiosis

Cryptosporidiosis is a parasitic disease that is transmitted through contaminated food or water from an infected person or animal. Cryptosporidiosis in cats is rare, but they can carry the germ without showing any signs of illness.

Cryptosporidiosis can cause profuse, watery diarrhea with cramping, abdominal pain, and nausea in people and many types of animals. Illness in people is usually self-limiting and lasts only 2-4 days, but can become severe in people with weakened immune systems.

Echinococcosis

Echinococcosis is a disease caused by eating or drinking food and water contaminated with tapeworm eggs or through contact with an infected animal. Cats become infected by eating tissue of an infected animal. Cats rarely show any signs of disease, but can be infected with a large number of adult tapeworms.

Although Echinococcus invades many different organs of the body, most people who are infected with the disease will not have any signs of illness for years. Symptoms start when the slow-growing cysts become large enough to press on the organs they have invaded. The tapeworms grow slowly in several different organs of the body, most commonly the liver and lungs.

Giardia

Giardia is a parasite that causes diarrhea in animals and people. Giardia is transmitted to animals and people through food or water contaminated with stool.

Symptoms for animals and people include diarrhea, greasy stools, and dehydration. People can also have abdominal cramps, nausea, and vomiting. Symptoms can last 1-2 weeks.

Hookworms

Cat hookworms are tiny worms that can spread through contact with contaminated soil or sand. Cats can also become infected with hookworms through accidentally ingesting the parasite from the environment or through their mother's milk or colostrum. Hookworm infections can cause anemia and weight loss in kittens. Severe infections can be fatal.

People become infected with cat hookworms while walking barefoot, kneeling, or sitting on ground contaminated with stool (poop) of infected animals. Hookworm larvae enter the top layers of skin and cause an itchy reaction called cutaneous larva migrans. A red squiggly line may appear where the larvae have migrated under the skin. Symptoms usually resolve without medical treatment in 4-6 weeks.

MRSA (Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus)

Staphylococcus aureus is a common type of bacteria that is normally found on the skin of people and animals. Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is the same bacterium that has become resistant to some antibiotics. Cats and other animals often can carry MRSA without being sick, but MRSA can cause a variety of infections, including of the skin, respiratory tract, and urinary tract.

MRSA can be transmitted back and forth between people and animals through direct contact. In people, MRSA most often causes skin infections that can range from mild to severe. If left untreated, MRSA can spread to the bloodstream or lungs and cause life-threatening infections.

Pasteurellosis

Pasteurellosis is a bacterial disease associated with animal bites and scratches. Pasteurella is a normal bacterium that lives in the mouths of healthy cats. The bacteria do not typically make cats sick; however, cats can develop abscesses or skin infections in places where they were scratched or bitten by another animal.

In people, pasteurellosis causes painful wound and skin infections. In severe cases, it can cause widespread infection and might even affect the nervous system.

Plague (Yersinia pestis)

Plague is a bacterial disease in animals and people that can lead to serious illness or death if left untreated. Cats are highly susceptible to plague and their symptoms are similar to those experienced by humans. Cats that hunt wild rodents and rabbits in the western, particularly the southwestern, United States are at greatest risk of becoming infected.

People most often become infected through flea bites or from contact with body fluids of infected animals. Bubonic plague is the most common form; symptoms include sudden onset of high fever, chills, headache, malaise, and swollen lymph nodes. The other two forms of plague, septicemic and pneumonic, cause more severe disease. Cats infected with plague can infect people through bites, scratches, coughs, or sneezes.

Rabies

Rabies, a fatal neurologic disease in animals and people, is caused by a virus. Animals and people are most commonly infected through bites from rabid animals. Infected cats may have a variety of signs, but most often have sudden behavioral changes and progressive paralysis. Cats may also appear restless, pant, and attack other animals, people, or objects. Animals with rabies typically die within a few days of appearing sick. Owners should vaccinate their cats against this deadly disease.

The first symptoms in people can start days to months after exposure; they include generalized weakness, fever, and headache. Within a few days, symptoms progress to confusion, anxiety, and behavioral changes. If you have been bitten by a cat or other animal and feel that there is a risk for rabies, contact your health care provider right away. Once symptoms appear, it is almost always too late for treatment.

Ringworm (Microsporum canis)

Ringworm is a condition caused by a fungus that can infect skin, hair, and nails of both people and animals. Ringworm is passed from animals to people through direct contact with an infected animal's skin or hair. Cats infected with ringworm typically have small areas of hair loss around their ears, face, or legs, with scaly or crusty skin. But some cats carrying ringworm have no signs of infection at all. Kittens are most commonly affected.

Ringworm infections in people can appear on almost any area of the body. These infections are usually itchy. Redness, scaling, cracking of the skin, or a ring-shaped rash may occur. If the infection involves the scalp or beard, hair may fall out. Infected nails become discolored or thick and may possibly crumble.

Roundworm (Toxocara spp.)

Toxocara roundworms cause a parasitic disease known as toxocariasis. Cats and people can become infected by swallowing roundworm eggs from the environment. Cats can also become infected as young kittens. Larval worms can come through the milk of a mother cat, passing the infection on to her kittens. Infected kittens usually do not seem sick. Those that do may have mild diarrhea, dehydration, rough coat, and a pot-bellied appearance.

In people, children are most often affected with roundworm. There are two forms of the disease in people: ocular larva migrans and visceral larva migrans. Ocular larva migrans happens when the larvae invade the retina (tissue in the eye) and cause inflammation, scarring, and possibly blindness. Visceral larva migrans occurs when the larvae invade parts of the body, such as the liver, lung, or central nervous system.

Salmonellosis (Salmonella spp.)

Salmonella spreads to people through contaminated food (eggs and meat) or contact with stool of certain animals, including cats. Cats can get salmonellosis through eating infected birds. While it usually does not make the cats sick, Salmonella infection can cause serious illness when it is passed to people.

People infected with Salmonella bacteria may have diarrhea, vomiting, fever, or abdominal cramps. Infants, elderly persons, and those with weakened immune systems are more likely than others to develop severe illness.

Sporotrichosis

Sporotrichosis is a fungal disease that can affect both animals and people. It is usually acquired from the environment through a cut or scrape in the skin but can be acquired from contact with animals as well. Infection with sporotrichosis in cats can range from no signs of illness to very serious disease. Signs often begin with small draining wounds that become raised lumps with the surface eroded away. The disease can worsen.

Three forms of sporotrichosis can infect people.

  • The first form is the cutaneous or skin form, which can progress from small raised areas on the skin to infection invading the lymph nodes and forming nodules that eventually ulcerate.
  • The second is the disseminated form, which occurs when the infection affects the internal organs and bones.
  • In the third form, the pulmonary form, a person acquires the infection through inhalation the fungus into the lungs, which often leads to chronic disease similar to tuberculosis.

Toxoplasmosis

Most healthy people who become infected with Toxoplasma show no signs or symptoms. However, pregnant women and people who have weakened immune systems may be at risk for serious health complications.

  • Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic disease that can spread to people and animals through contaminated soil, water, or meat, and contact with stool from an infected cat. Cats are the main source of infection to other animals but rarely appear sick.
  • The latter two forms are potentially fatal.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Nancy E. Halpern, DVM, Esq.
 
In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of www.mondaq.com

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about Mondaq.com’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.

Disclaimer

Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.

Registration

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to unsubscribe@mondaq.com with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.

Cookies

A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.

Links

This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.

Mail-A-Friend

If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.

Security

This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to webmaster@mondaq.com.

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to EditorialAdvisor@mondaq.com.

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at enquiries@mondaq.com.

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at problems@mondaq.com and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.