It used to be called "cat scratch fever," (now it's just called "cat scratch disease") and it's a bacterial infection caused by the bite of a flea on a cat.
That infection can then be spread to human beings if they are bitten by the cat, scratched by it or simply allow the cat to lick their hand where they have any sort of cut or wound through which the bacteria can transfer.
Roughly around 12,000 people each year are known to be victimized by the disease -- sometimes through contact with their own animals, but often through the contact they have with another person's cat when that cat lashes out and claws at them. Of those 12,000 diagnosed with the disease, around 500 will have a case of cat scratch disease so severe that they have to be hospitalized.
The symptoms can be pretty dramatic: Victims can start out with nothing more than a few swollen lymph nodes in the area nearest the scratches or bite. The swollen lymph nodes turn into a fever and headache -- and then real complication start to set in, including brain damage and heart damage. Most of the victims are children -- partially because they may be more susceptible to the bacterial infection in the first place and partially because they may be more likely to play with the family house cat or local strays in a way that will get them bitten or scratched.
The disease is preventable, however. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that making sure that a cat is flea-free is all that is necessary to stop the transmission of this terrible disease.
That means you should be careful about petting or other contact with strays -- but you also need to be cautious around the house cats belonging to friends or relatives if they're allowed to roam outside and untreated for fleas.
Anyone injured by another person's animal should seek legal advice if the wound is serious. For more information on how our firm may be able to help you in a situation like this, please visit our page.