68-Year-Old Man Develops Painful Boils on His Neck Linked to Infected Pet Cat

The man's cat died two days before his symptoms appeared

kitty looking at camera
Photo: Getty Images

An unidentified man from Missouri developed a rare infection that caused swollen lesions to develop on the side of his face — and doctors believe it originated from his pet cat.

The 68-year-old man visited his doctor two months after three large and unsightly boils appeared on the right side of his neck, according to a report published in the New England Journal of Medicine. After undergoing blood tests, the man was diagnosed with glandular tularemia, a rare disease caused by the Francisella tularensis bacterium that can lead to fatal pneumonia in more than half of cases.

While the lesions were progressively painful, the man endured them for weeks until he came down with a week-long fever that finally prompted him to seek medical treatment. Doctors at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis believe the man initially caught the disease from his outdoor cat, who died just two days before his symptoms appeared. The lumps on the man’s neck were actually the man’s enlarged lymph nodes, which swelled up as the bacterium entered his body.

The New England Journal of Medicine ©2018.

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“Domestic cats can become infected through the consumption of infected prey and can transmit the bacteria to humans,” the Journal reports.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, humans can catch the bacterium when they handle an infected animal or drink contaminated water. Interestingly enough, the bacteria can also be passed to humans through the air, which can occur during landscaping activities, such as when a tractor or lawnmower runs over an infected animal.

Rabbits and rodents are especially susceptible to the bacteria, which can cause them to die off in large numbers when an outbreak occurs.

Symptoms can appear anywhere between three and five days to two weeks after a person is infected, Mayo Clinic says. Signs of the disease include swollen and painful lymph glands, fevers, chills, headaches and exhaustion.

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Andrej Spec, a co-author of the report, while the man’s cat had feline tularemia, she was misdiagnosed with feline leukemia by a veterinarian who did not perform proper laboratory testing. In turn, the man likely became infected by the F. tularensis bacterium while administering the cancer medication to the feline.

Fortunately, the man was treated with doxycycline, an antibiotic, and made a full recovery within four weeks. His case now serves as a reminder of immediately seeking medical attention when unfamiliar symptoms appear.

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