23-Year-Old Suffers Erectile Dysfunction After His Pet Cat Scratches Him

Cat scratch disease is rare, and the bacteria causing the illness are mainly found in kittens. Getty/Johannes Eisele

Pets have long been lauded for the health benefits they bring owners. Research has shown that owning a pet can lower stress, blood pressure and cholesterol levels, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of course, pet ownership can come with some pretty unpleasant surprises, like allergic reactions, vet bills—and, apparently, erectile dysfunction.

In a rare but true case, a 23-year-old male suffered from erectile dysfunction after being scratched by a cat. Doctors document this case of what's known as cat-scratch disease in a report published September 12 in BMJ (formerly British Medical Journal).

The unidentified man visited the emergency room after experiencing a fever, chills and intense night sweating for five days. He also suffered from erectile dysfunction as well as pain in his lower back, pelvis, testicles and penis glands, according to the report. Despite not changing his diet or fitness routine, the patient lost about 22 pounds in six months.

A physical exam showed no abnormalities other than swollen lymph nodes, and tests cleared the patient of sexually transmitted diseases like HIV, hepatitis and syphilis. It was only when the man revealed that he'd been scratched by a young cat that doctors were able to diagnose him with cat-scratch disease, caused by the Bartonella henselae bacterium. A bone marrow and lymph node biopsy confirmed presence of the bacteria.

A course of the antibiotic tetracycline, twice a day for three weeks, cleared up the infection, and the patient can now return to having a normal sex life.

But don't get rid of the family cat just yet—this is, after all, an extremely rare case. The CDC says that although you can get the disease from any feline, domestic or feral, the Bartonella bacterium is usually found in strays. However, the microbes are present in up to a third of healthy cats, according to estimates, and are commonly transmitted through scratches or bites. Some evidence indicates cat scratch disease can be spread through bites from cat fleas, though this remains unclear.

Your best bet for avoiding cat-scratch disease is avoiding rough play with felines, particularly strays that you aren't familiar with, and treating your own pet for fleas. Keep your own kitty indoors, and if you do get bitten or deeply scratched, the CDC advises washing the wound with soap and water. If you develop tender lymph nodes weeks after being scratched, you might want to see your doctor.