There are a handful of zoonotic diseases—illnesses that can spread from animals to people. While it’s possible to contract a disease from your cat, it isn’t highly likely. Cleanliness is your best defense: Wear gloves to clean your cat's litterbox, and if you're pregnant, avoid the litterbox altogether. Remember to wash your hands after you feed, groom or pet your cat. Read the list of diseases below and more ways to help you stay healthy.
Cat Scratch Fever
Cats contract bartonellosis, commonly called cat scratch fever, when they ingest an infected flea or its feces. They can pass the infection to you through a bite or scratch. See your physician for antibiotics if symptoms—fever, headaches, swollen lymph glands—persist for more than a few days.
To prevent the disease, avoid feral or aggressive cats. And don't let a cat lick an open wound on your body; its saliva will deposit bacteria into the wound.
Roundworms are common in cats and can spread to humans through infected feces—people with litterbox duties and children who touch contaminated soil are at the greatest risk. In humans, symptoms of roundworm include cough, shortness of breath, abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhea and fatigue. If you are experiencing these symptoms and suspect roundworm, see your doctor for treatment.
Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic infection that cats can contract by eating infected raw meat or prey. The parasite lives in their intestines and is expelled in their feces, which is where humans come into contact with it. As with roundworm, people with litterbox duties are at a higher risk for contracting toxoplasmosis. Women who are pregnant should avoid litterbox cleaning, as toxoplasmosis can pass from a mother to her unborn child. Antibiotics help ease a toxoplasmosis infection, but there is currently no known cure.
Ringworm is a skin fungus that spreads from cats to humans through direct contact. Both cats and humans will develop scaly, bald circles on the skin. Treatment includes an over-the-counter antifungal ointment for humans and a vet-prescribed ointment for cats.
Rabies is passed from cats to humans through bites. If a cat bites you, wash the bite with soap and water and apply an antiseptic. If you are not certain that the cat has a current rabies vaccination, see your doctor immediately to be treated. A series of injections is used to treat the rabies virus.
Feline AIDS and Herpes
There are a lot of myths about these two diseases, but the truth is they CANNOT be spread to humans. These diseases only affect cats, weakening the immune system and causing upper respiratory infections. There is no cure for FIV. Feline herpes can't be cured, either, but it can be managed by medication.