Cat Scratch Disease

If you are ever the victim of a scratch or a bite from a cat, the wound that is created cannot always be taken lightly. You may be vulnerable to contracting what is commonly referred to Cat Scratch Disease (CSD), a malady caused by a bacterium.

Cats are the natural reservoir of Bartonella henselae and serve as asymptomatic carriers. The cat flea is a vector of Bartonella henselae. The disease is transmitted through scratches or bites. Kittens are more likely to shed and transmit the disease to people. Usually the scratch or bite becomes slightly infected and is followed by marked swelling of lymph nodes, especially those around the head, neck and arms. Some people develop fever, headache, fatigue and anorexia.

The disease can undergo complications in the forms of bacillary angiomatosis and Parinaud's oculolandular syndrome. It has a worldwide distribution. In the United States alone there are about 24,000 cases documented each year, including over 2,000 cases requiring hospitalization. Rarely, however, is the disease fatal. Most victims are under 21 years of age and most cases are reported between July and January. Several family members in affected households are often exposed to the disease.

Immunocompromised people (such as patients undergoing immunosuppressive therapy for organ transplant, immune mediated diseases, etc.) and people with HIV/AIDS are more likely than others to have complications of CSD. Although B. henselae has been found in fleas, so far there is no evidence that a bite from an infected flea can give you CSD.

The disease risk can be lessened by administering an effective flea control program and avoiding injuries from kittens. Every bite or scratch should be immediately and thoroughly washed with antibacterial soap. Cats also should not be allowed to lick open wounds. Immunocompromised people should avoid contact with young cats altogether.

In the event of a wound infection resulting from a scratch or a bite (redness, swelling or puss formation) or signs of disease (fever, malaise, headache or swollen lymph nods) a physician should be contacted immediately.

More information at the CDC site


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Yuval Nir
Naperville University Commons Animal Clinic-
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Veterinarians, Animal hospital