Cat Scratch Disease and its Symptoms
Cat Scratch Disease is an infection caused by Bacteria known as Bartonella henselae. Although about 40% of cats carry the bacteria in their saliva at some point in their lives, cats that carry Bartonella henselae do not themselves show any signs of illness. Most people contract the disease after being scratched or bitten by a cat that carries the bacteria.
Cat Scratch Disease has also been referred to as cat scratch fever or subacute regional lymphadenitis. This disease spreads when an infected cat licks a person’s open wound, or bites or scratches a person hard enough to break the surface of the skin. Also these bacteria may be present on cat fur; it is possible to contract the disease from petting a cat and then rubbing your eyes. Kittens less than 1 year old are more likely than older cats to carry the bacteria and to transmit the infection to humans. Sometimes people who get cat scratch disease do not recall ever being scratched or bitten by a cat.
In people who have a normal immune system, scratch cat disease is usually not a serious illness. Cats can also get the Bartonella henselae bacteria from flea bites and flea dirt (droppings) getting into their wounds. By scratching and biting at the fleas, cats pick up the infected flea dirt under their nails and between their teeth. Cats can also come infected by fighting with other cats that are infected with the disease. The germ can also spread when infected cats lick at wounds or scabs that you may have.
The Symptoms: A small papule (a raised bump) develops at the bite, scratch, or site of injury within 10 days. About 3 to 14 days after the skin is broken, a mild infection can occur at the site of the scratch or bite. The infected area may appear swollen and red with round raised lesions and can have pus. The infection can feel warm and painful. A Person with Cat Scratch Disease may also have a fever, headache, poor appetite, and exhaustion. Later, the person’s lymph nodes closest to the original scratch or bite can become swollen, tender or painful. The swollen lymph nodes usually disappear within 2 to 4 months, although sometimes can last much longer. In rare cases, a person might develop other symptoms, including infections of the liver, spleen, bones, joints, or lungs, or a lingering high fever without other symptoms.
The signs and symptoms that follow may include: fever, chills, nausea, vomiting, and fatigue, loss of appetite, headache, joint pains, sore throat and swelling and tenderness of the lymph nodes (swollen glands). As the disease progresses, more nodules may develop under the skin at the point of injury.
Bartonella henselae can cause a more serious illness in people with an impaired immune system such as from HIV/AIDS, or from chemotherapy for cancer. In people with HIV/AIDS, the infection can lead to an abnormal growth of blood vessels that form tumor-like masses, a condition called bacillary angiomatosis. This condition can cause severe inflammation of multiple organs including the brain, spleen, liver, lungs and bone marrow. Untreated, the disease can be fatal in people with HIV/AIDS.
The best way to prevent Cat Scratch Disease is to avoid situations in which you might be bitten or scratched by a cat. Do not play roughly with a cat, and don’t force your attentions on a cat who clearly does not welcome them. In any case, wash your hands thoroughly after playing with a cat. If you are bitten or scratched, wash the affected area well with soap and water. Cats should never be allowed to lick open sores or scratches on your skin.
It is not known exactly how cats acquire the infection. Since Baronella henselae has been found in fleas many experts believe that cats get the bacteria from fleas. Controlling fleas is also recommended as a way to help prevent infection.
If you are bitten or scratched by a cat and then develop any symptoms of Cat Scratch Disease, contact your doctor immediately.
Article written by: Carol Limon