Cat Scratching Wooden Furniture

Is Cat Scratch Fever Deadly Or Just Irritating?

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.

How Could My Cat Get CDS?

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).

Fleas from a Cat on a Table

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.

What Are The Common Symptoms In Cats?

  • fever
  • enlarged, tender lymph nodes that develop 1–3 weeks after exposure
  • a scab or pustule at the scratch site

Should I Get My Cat Treated For Bartonella?

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.

Cat Being Held by a 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.

If My Child Is Scratched By A Kitten Do We Need To Worry About Cat Scratch Fever?

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.

Baby Playing with a Cat

Treatment with antibiotics isn’t usually necessary but it might reduce the swelling of the lymph nodes.

What Are The Symptoms In People?

  • a bump or blister at the bite or scratch (most common on the arms, hands, head, scalp, and usually not painful)
  • swollen lymph nodes near the bite or scratch site (underarm or neck area, possibly groin area – ½ inch to 2 inches, and the skin may be warm and red)
  • fatigue
  • ​headaches
  • ​loss of appetite
  • ​weight loss
  • sore throat
  • low-grade fever

Can Someone With A Compromised Immune System Have A Cat?

You can keep your cat but keep the following in mind:

  • the cat must stay indoors
  • avoid situations where scratches are likely (but don’t declaw the cat)
  • ​wash any scratches with soap and water immediately
  • abolish fleas on your cat and in your home (and avoid them outside as well)
  • you don’t need to have the cat tested or treated for Bartonella
  • ​if you get a cat make sure it is at least a year old, in good health, and flea-free
  • avoid handling strays and cats with fleas
Scratched Hand on a White Towel

How Is Cat Scratch Fever Diagnosed In People?

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.

It Sounds Benign - Are There Complications?

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.

Cat Doctor Morris

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.

  • Encephalopathy - a brain disease that can occur if the Bartonella henselae bacteria spreads to the brain. This can result in permanent brain damage or death.
  • Neuroretinitis - an inflammation of the optic nerve and retina in the eye that causes blurred vision. This can occur if the bacteria travel to the eye. The impaired vision usually returns to normal after the infection is over.
  • Osteomyelitis - a bacterial infection in the bones that can result in bone damage. Sometimes amputation is necessary.
  • Parinaud’s syndrome - an eye infection similar to pink eye. Cat scratch fever is one of the most common causes of Parinaud’s. Bartonella henselae may enter the eye directly (from cat saliva) or through the bloodstream.

This usually responds to antibiotics but may require surgery in rare cases.

What Is The Treatment?

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.

Cat Scratching Itself Behind Ear

How Can CSD Be Prevented?

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.

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