Cat Scratch Fever

Discover the symptoms of cat scratch fever and find out which precautions you can take to avoid the infection.

Professionally known as Bartonella Henselae (an intracellular parasite), but recognized by its more common moniker of cat scratch fever or cat scratch disease, CSD is a form of infection that human beings are able to contract via a scratch or bite received by an infected cat. Contrary to popular belief, not all felines are carriers or hosts of Bartonella Henselae; therefore, not all bites or scratches that one acquires from a cat will cause CSD.

“Most people get CSD from cat bites and scratches,” says Dr. Michelle Beck, DVM at P.A.W.S. Pet Hospital in Hugo, Minn. “Kittens are more likely to be infected and to pass the bacterium to people. About 40% of cats carry B. henselae at some time in their lives. Cats that carry B. henselae do not show any signs of illness; therefore, you cannot tell which cats can spread the disease to you.”

While cat scratch disease is treatable in healthy human beings, it requires quite a bit of time (between two and four months) to fully leave one’s body. Usually, CSD will vacate the system on its own, though occasionally, azithromycin is used to speed up the pace of healing time. For those who have undergone organ transplants, cancer treatments or have HIV/AIDS, CSD has a stronger chance of causing health complications. Thus, it is better to do what you can to avoid infection altogether by keeping CSD out of your, and your feline’s life, from the get go.

“It is believed that the main route of transmission [of cat scratch disease] among cats is via feces from infected cat fleas (Ctenocephalides felis),” says Dr. Ashley Hughes, DVM at Friendship Hospital for Animals in Washington, D.C. “Humans can become infected if a cat scratch is infected with flea feces or a bite wound is contaminated by blood from flea feces or an infected cat. If a scratch or bite occurs, washing it well should prevent transmission of disease.”

Given the fact that cat fleas and flea feces are most often the culprit behind cat scratch disease infections, the number one way to prevent the infection – in both you and your cat – is to keep kitty on strong flea and tick control year-round and to practice good hygiene. Thoroughly cleanse all cat bites and/or scratches immediately after they have been acquired with soap and water.

“Avoid ‘rough play’ with cats – especially kittens,” says Beck. “This includes any activity that may lead to cat scratches and bites. Do not allow cats to lick open wounds that you may have. Control fleas. And if you develop an infection (with pus and pronounced swelling) where you were scratched or bitten by a cat, or if you develop symptoms, including fever, headache, swollen lymph nodes and fatigue, contact your physician.”

Cat scratch disease has the potential to cause complications in your life, but by taking the proper precautions, it is simple to keep the infection away from you and your kitty counterpart!

Erika Sorocco is a freelance writer and member of the Cat Writers’ Association living in Southern California. Her work has appeared in numerous publications both nationally and internationally.

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Cats · Lifestyle