New report reveals more people are getting sick from Cat Scratch Disease.
Scottish Straight kittens look on during a cat exhibition in Bishkek on March 23, 2013. VYACHESLAV OSELEDKO/AFP/Getty Images

Cuddling kittens may be a soothing and joyous pastime for cat lovers, but according to a new report, snuggling up to feline friends may potentially pose life-threatening risks.

A study conducted by doctors from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) proved cat-scratch disease, an infection with Bartonella bacteria that is believed to be transmitted by cat scratches and bites, is actually more impactful and deadly than what was originally assumed.

Researchers took data from MarketScan health-insurance claims between 2005-2013 and discovered more than 13,000 U.S. patients were diagnosed with cat-scratch disease, with 538 requiring inpatient treatment. Children, the elderly, and people with weak immune systems are most likely to be affected by cat-scratch disease.

Although the number of people suffering from cat-scratch disease remains relatively low—only 4.5 outpatient diagnoses out of every 100,000 accounts for the disease—it's the increase of people suffering from serious side effects that have researchers concerned.

Cat-scratch disease occurs when a cat licks an open wound and can also be transferred if a cat bites or scratches a person’s skin hard enough to break the surface. The infection takes anywhere between three to 14 days to appear and can bring about symptoms of fever, headache, exhaustion, swelling, raised lesions and poor appetite. Although the disease is a rare one, it can lead to serious effects in the brain, eyes, heart and other internal organs. At least one case of death from cat-scratch disease has been reported since 2007, when an autopsy report blamed the disease for the death of a healthy 6-year-old boy.

About 40 percent of all cats carry Bartonella henselae at some point in their lives, particularly stray cats because the bacteria can only fester in cats with fleas. Kittens are most likely to pass the bacteria, which the CDC says may be due to their inclination to scratch and bite while playing and learning how to attack.

People can prevent catching cat-scratch disease by washing wounds promptly after a cat bite or scratch and by thoroughly washing hands after playing with a cat. It is also advised for those suffering from weakened immune systems not to adopt kittens younger than 1-year-old since they are more likely to carry and spread the disease. Getting cats checked for fleas regularly also helps prevent the spread of cat-scratch disease.