Cat Scratch Fever

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 By Diane Levitan, VMD

• Cat Scratch Disease, also known as Cat Scratch Fever, is a bacterial disease caused by the bacteria, Bartonella henselae.

• More than 90% of people who develop Cat Scratch Disease (CSD) have had some sort of contact with a cat prior to becoming infected.  More than 22,000 cases of CSD are diagnosed annually in the US.

• Most people infected are under the age of 21.

• The bacterium is carried from cat to cat via fleas and there is no evidence to date that the fleas can directly infect humans.  Human to human transmission does not occur, that is, CSD is not contagious from one person to another.

• Cats and kittens will not appear sick if they are carrying the bacterium, which lives in their saliva.  Experts state that more than 50% of cats carry B. henselae and cats under 1 year of age are more likely to be infected.

• Symptoms of CSD include: 

a. a non-painful blister or small bump that appears within days of being bitten or scratched by the cat
b. Swollen lymph nodes appear within 1-2 weeks after injury.
c. Mild fever, headaches, and loss of appetite are also reported

• Incubation time is generally 3-10 days for initial symptoms to occur with 1-4 weeks until lymphadenopathy.

• In many cases, the disease is self-limiting and will resolve without any treatment at all.  Antibiotics have been used in some cases.

• People who are immuno-compromised run a higher risk of more serious complications of CSD which include:

a. Eye infections
b. Internal organ (liver, spleen, bone marrow) infection
c. Lingering high fever
d. Seizures

• Routine hand washing and discouraging rough play with the family’s cats or kittens is the best method for preventing CSD.

• There is no reason to get rid of your pet in the event someone develops CSD in the household.   Speak with your veterinarian about concerns that you might have.