Cat scratch fever is a zoonotic disease. This means it can be transferred between animals and people. It is commonly transmitted when a cat infected with the Bartonella henselae bacteria scratches or bites a human and breaks skin. The bacteria is transferred to cats via flea bites.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 12,000 people are diagnosed with cat scratch fever annually. Approximately 500 of those people will require hospitalization.
Most cases of cat scratch fever occur in the southern regions of the United States. The risk of serious illness is small.
- The disease is common among children between the ages of five and nine years of age.
- People with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to contract cat scratch disease.
- Pregnant women may have a higher risk of contracting the disease. In rare cases, the bacteria may appear in the cat’s urine. This is why pregnant women are frequently urged to refrain from cleaning litter boxes.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Symptoms of cat scratch fever are often benign and never require medical care. A definitive diagnosis is made by performing a polymerase chain reaction blood test to confirm the presence of B.henselae bacteria.
- A bump or blister at the scratch or bite site.
- Fatigue and lethargy.
- Swollen lymph nodes at the injury site.
- Low-grade fever.
- Body aches.
Complications are extremely rare. High-risk individuals may be more prone to complications if the disease is not treated.
- Encephalopathy. This may occur if the bacteria infects the brain.
- Neuroretinitis is an inflammation of the optic nerve. The condition generally resolves itself when the bacteria is gone.
- Osteomyelitis is a bacterial infection located in the bone. This can be very serious if left untreated.
- Parinaud oculoglandular syndrome is an eye infection that exhibits similar symptoms to pink eye.
Treatment and Prevention
Most cases of cat scratch disease are very mild and resolve without medical treatment. Antibiotics are very effective in treating high-risk individuals and people exhibiting more serious symptoms.
Abstaining from playing with cats is the most effective method of prevention. Kittens and young cats are the prevalent carriers of the disease.
Most cats carrying the bacteria are generally not treated. In rare cases, the bacteria may cause a serious inflammation of the heart. Infections may also develop in the cat’s urinary system, mouth or eyes.