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Cat Scratch Fever

Updated on May 11, 2011

Cat Scratch Fever is also called Cat Scratch Disease. It is an infection caused by a bacterium called Bartonella henselae. Cats can carry this bacteria in their saliva. More kittens than cats carry it. More wild cats than tame cats carry it. Cats usually do not show any signs or symptoms of being infected with it, making it hard to tell if it may infect you. It is transmitted to humans through an infected cat's bite or scratch, petting an infected cat and then wiping your eyes, or letting an infected cat lick an open wound. It is not contagious between human and human, so you will not catch it from someone else.

Fleas carry this same bacteria. It passes out of their bodies in their feces. Cats may pick it up by licking their fur or feet. Fleas do not pass this disease to humans.

Cat Scratch Disease is usually not serious and should go away on its own. A person with a normal immune system should be able to recover from it with no treatment from a doctor.

A small blister or pustule at the site of a cat bite or scratch is usually the first sign of the disease. This will usually occur within ten days of the injury. The blister should heal on its own within a few days. Within four weeks of being bitten or scratched, lymph nodes near the site of injury will swell. The swelling in the lymph nodes should disappear within four months, but could take longer.

Other signs could include fever, headache, an enlarged spleen, loss of appetite, weight loss, sore throat, and fatigue. Bed rest is not usually necessary. Taking it easy and not overdoing things will allow a body to fight off the infection. Over the counter pain medicine should help ease any discomfort from swollen lymph nodes.

In severe cases a doctor will prescribe an antibiotic which will generally take care of it. People with compromised immune systems may develop a severe case with complications. Someone who is getting treatment for cancer, a person who has received an organ transplant, or someone with HIV / AIDES would have a compromised immune system.

Some complications can include Parinaud Oculoglandular Syndrome which is an eye problem similar to pink eye. It ususally affects only one eye and is accompanied by nearby lymph nodes swelling, ususally in front of the ear. Osteomyelitis is an infection of the bone. Neuroretinitis is an inflammation of the optic nerve and retina of an eye.

Cat Scratch Disease is an illness that is relatively rare and usually mild. It can affect people of all ages, but more so in those younger than 21. It is not a reportable disease, meaning doctors do not have to report it to the CDC (Center for Disease Control). There are approximately 22,000 cases yearly in the United States. Death can occur in some cases.

There are no specific guidelines for diagnosing Cat Scratch Disease. A doctor will use a combination of presenting symptoms and if there is a history of exposure to a cat to arrive at a diagnosis. There is also an antibody titer test that can be done. You should see your doctor if the wound from a bite or scratch does not heal, if any redness appears on the skin around the wound or if any redness covers a larger area over a period of several days, if a fever develops and lasts more than a few days or the fever is high, if there is a lot of pain associated with a lymph node, if the person is very sick, if you are having abdominal pain not related to vomitting or diarrhea, or if new symptoms develop.

There are some things you can do help avoid getting Cat Scratch Disease. You do not need to get rid of a pet cat! Avoid stray cats. You don't know if they are healthy or what illnesses they may have and they may not be friendly! Avoid rough play with kittens and cats. When they scratch and bite in play they break the skin open allowing germs to enter the body. If you do have rough play with your cat, after play time is over wash any scratches or bites thoroughly with soap and water. Don't let a cat lick an open wound. Cats carry this bacteria in their saliva if they are infected and if they lick an open wound their saliva is transfered to an open area where it will enter the body. Wash your hands (and arms) after petting or playing with a cat. If you pet an infected cat and then wipe or rub your eyes you can transter the bacteria to an open area (your eyes). If you do have a cat or cats make sure you have a flea control program in place.

Cat Scratch Disease is relatively rare and usually mild. You do not have to quarantine a pet cat, you do not need to get rid of a pet cat, and you do not have to have a pet cat put to sleep! Just follow a few simple steps and you should be ok!


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