Cat scratch disease (CSD) is a bacterial infection caused by Bartonella henselae bacteria. CSD occurs wherever cats and fleas are found. Fleas spread it from cat to cat. People generally can’t get it from fleas.
Most infections in people occur after being scratched by a cat or especially a kitten. It can also be contracted if cat saliva gets into an open wound or the whites of your eyes.
In the North America, most cases occur in the fall or winter and most commonly affects children under 15 years old.
It is believed that cats are infected with the bacteria by fleas. It may be from flea bites.
The bacteria is found in flea feces (flea dirt on your cat) and cats may be infecting themselves as they scratch themselves (rubbing it into their skin and getting it on their paws) or groom themselves (ingesting it).
It is also possible that they catch it through fighting with other cats or through blood transfusions.
Some cats become ill but most just carry the bacteria in their blood. Some studies have found that it is in the blood of 1/3 of healthy cats.
Not unless your cat gets sick with it. Treating it with antibiotics takes a long time. A healthy cat immune system can usually take care of it more effectively and efficiently.
If a cat does become sick, it will usually have a fever for a couple of days and recover on its own.
If the cat has fever plus lethargy, red eyes, vomiting, decreased appetite, and swollen lymph nodes, visit the vet.
If you or someone in your family has a compromised immune system, though, you may want to have your cat tested. But there are ways for the person to behave around cats so there is no risk of infection.
Testing your cat’s blood for DNA of the Bartonella bacteria is considered the most reliable test in cats. Because it circulates intermittently, several tests may be needed to be sure if it is present or not.
Most cat scratches don’t end up causing CSD. All you can do is clean the scratch with soap and water. Watch for symptoms over the next one to three weeks and take her to a doctor if you see them. Swollen lymph nodes are usually the first sign in kids.
Treatment with antibiotics isn’t usually necessary but it might reduce the swelling of the lymph nodes.
Your doctor will check for an enlarged spleen and can test for antibodies of the Bartonella henselae bacteria.
If your doctor thinks you might have cat scratch disease, he will perform a physical exam to see if your spleen is enlarged. But cat scratch fever is difficult to diagnose from the symptoms alone.
To make an accurate diagnosis, he will run an indirect fluorescent antibody (IFA) test on your blood to find out if Bartonella henselae bacteria are present in your body.
Bartonella antibodies that are labeled with dye (anti-antibodies) will attach themselves to existing Bartonella antibodies in your body, if you have any, and “light up.” And this is your diagnosis.
Infection by Bartonella is usually mild in humans, an estimated 25,000 cases of cat scratch disease require brief hospitalization in the US each year.
Many of those patients are children because children are most likely to play with kittens, kittens are more likely to have it, and kittens are more likely to bite and scratch when playing.
This usually responds to antibiotics but may require surgery in rare cases.
CSD isn’t usually serious and doesn’t usually require treatment. Anitbotics may be used for people with weak immune systems or if the case is serious.
Avoid contact with cats. If you have a cat, avoid rough play. Wash your hands after handling your cat. Keep your cat indoors. Treat your cat for fleas.