Could Contact With a Cat Leave You Blind?

Photo (cc) by zaimoku_woodpile

It took doctors months to diagnose an Ohio woman who woke up blind in one eye.

Janese Walters tells Toledo News Now that she initially thought it was pinkeye.

It turned out to be cat-scratch disease, a bacterial infection spread by some cats. Walters likely was infected when her cat licked the woman’s eye.

Dr. Kristopher R. Brickman, medical director of emergency services at the University of Toledo College of Medicine, tells Toledo News Now that the bacteria comes from cats’ saliva and can be on their fur too.

“Anything that is exposed to the cat’s mouth, including if you have a little scratch that the cat licks — that’s how you can get it.”

Brickman says about 40 percent of cats carry the bacteria, which does not harm the animal itself.

In some cases, the bacteria can affect human eyes because it expands blood vessels. It can also cause liver problems and — if it enters the spinal fluid — meningitis, Brickman says.

A mild infection can appear at the site of the scratch or bite about three to 14 days later, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The area might feel warm or painful and appear “swollen and red with round, raised lesions.”

Symptoms can include also fever, headache, poor appetite and exhaustion. Eventually, lymph nodes near the infection site can become swollen, tender or painful. (Lymph nodes are part of the immune system and found throughout the body.)

To protect against cat-scratch disease, the CDC suggests that you:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water after playing with a cat.
  • Keep cats’ nails trimmed.
  • Avoid getting bitten or scratched by a cat — don’t play rough.
  • Don’t allow a cat to lick open wounds.
  • If a cat bites or scratches you, wash the wound with soap and water.
  • Avoid cats that are less than 1 year old if you have a weakened immune system because they are more likely to carry and spread the bacteria.

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