by Kimberly Allen RN
Cat scratch fever or cat scratch disease is a bacterial infection that you can contract from an infected cat or kitten. There are approximately 22,000 cases diagnosed every year in the US. Most cases of cat scratch fever are diagnosed in children and most experts believe that is because their immune systems are not fully developed yet and children are more likely to play with cats and kittens. People with impaired immune systems also have a greater risk of developing the disease. Cat scratch fever is also more commonly diagnosed in the fall and winter than the other seasons.
Cat scratch fever is caused by the bartonella henselae bacterium and can be found anywhere in the world. Cats and kittens are usually carriers of the bacteria without being ill, however, they can transmit it to humans. many experts have stated that at least half of all cats will have an infection with bartonella henselae at some point in their lives, usually as kitten’s. The disease is spread cat to cat through flee’s, however it is not the flee’s that transmit the disease to humans. this bacteria is usually in the cat or kitten’s saliva but can also be on their fur. It is then tranferred to humans through a scratch or bite and if it’s on the fur you can contract cat scratch fever by petting the cat or kitten.
The symptoms of cat scratch fever usually develop several days after you become infected with the bacteria. The first symptoms to appear is a small bump or blister that is usually mistaken for a bug bite. The “bump” also called a lesion is where the bacteria entered your body and it’s usually located on the head and scalp or arms and hands. Then in a week or so lymph nodes that are near the site of infection will become inflammed and tender. For example, if the point of infection is on your arm the lymph nodes in your arm pit and sometime those in the elbow will be affected. Usually your skin that is over the affected lymph nodes becomes red and warm. Sometimes the affected lymph nodes will also have pus drainage. Other symptoms that most people experience include a fever, headache, sore throat, poor appetite, rash and a general feeling of being sick.
People with impaired immune systems, especially those with HIV/AIDS are also at risk for developing a more serious condition known as bacillary angiomatosis. Left untreated this condition can be fatal as it affects multiple organs. People with bacillary angiomatosis usually develop an abnormal growth of blood vessels. These blood vessels then form tumor like masses causing severe inflammation of the brain, lungs, liver and spleen as well as the bone marrow. This can lead to numerous other complications including organ failure and death. Most cases of cat scratch fever resolve on their own without any specific treatment. However, if symptoms persist and are severe your Dr may prescribe antibiotics that will need to be taken for 3-4 weeks until all the lesions are fully healed. People with HIV/AIDS are always given either erythromycin or doxycycline for at least 4 weeks.
The most effective way to prevent cat scratch fever is to avoid playing roughly with cats or kittens and wash your hands after playing with cats or kittens. If you or someone in your home are at risk you do not have to get rid of your pet. The cat or kitten can carry the disease without being ill but can be treated, contact your veterinarian for assistance.