If you’ve ever doubted that cat scratch disease (CSD) is for real, just ask someone who has had it. Also, known as cat scratch fever, not to be confused with an infamous Ted Nugent rock & roll classic, cat scratch disease is an ailment that is not always easily noticeable in cats.

Here is evidence to confirm that the disease exists, how you can tell if your cat might be a carrier, plus some dangers to humans if you become infected with cat scratch fever. Detection is essential, treatment usually successful and prevention is not hard, but cat scratch disease is not a myth – it’s real.

What Is Cat Scratch Disease?

bacteria that causes cat scratch disease

Cat scratch disease is a form of bacterial infection transmitted by an infected cat by licking on a person’s open wound, or by scratching or biting thus opening the skin surface. The infection usually happens roughly three to fourteen days after the cat breaks the skin. The infected part may appear red and round and swollen. It will have raised lesions containing pus. The infection may also appear painful or warm.

An individual with a cat scratch disease may likewise have a headache, fever, exhaustion, and poor appetite. The lymph nodes near the original bite or scratch can become painful, tender, or swollen.

CSD is brought about by a bacterium referred to as Bartonella henselae. Roughly 40% of felines have B. henselae, though many of them with this form of infection do not exhibit any sign of illness. CSD is common among kittens that are less than a year old. Kittens with B. henselae are likely to bite and scratch while playing and learning how to an effective way to attack prey. Kittens under one-year-old are nearly twice as likely to be infected with the bacteria.

When cat scratch disease is transmitted to a human being, it is referred to as the zoonotic disease If you contract the zoonotic disease, wash the scratches and cat bites with running water and soap. Prevent your cat from licking your wounds and contact your health specialist immediately.

Symptoms of Cat Scratch Disease

Cat Scratch Symptoms in Cats

Since cats show very few signs, if any, that they are carrying the bacteria Bartonella it is often very difficult to detect. There are unusual cases where the bacteria can escalate into Bartonellosis, especially older cats and newborn kittens.

A symptom of Bartonellosis in cats is indicative of inflamed organs, primarily their heart. The most noticeable symptom in cats is a difficulty breathing. Young kittens that seem to have breathing issues should be checked as soon as possible as the disease can affect them more dramatically than a mature cat. An untreated case in newborn kittens can cause fatal heart disease.

While the disease does frequently disappear on its own, it can also be fatal if internal complications arise. Be attentive to any wounds or skin rashes on your cat that seem difficult to heal. Again, the only way to be certain Bartonellosis has infected a cat is to have them tested.

Cat Scratch Disease in Humans

Bartonellosis in humans is uncommon, but in certain individuals who have immune deficiency issues, problems can be life-threatening. Once the disease is contracted in highly susceptible people, hospitalization is usually required, plus intensive aftercare follow-up.

Children under the age of five are also prone to contracting Bartonellosis. While their immune system is weaker than a healthy adult, the complications usually resolve themselves after treated with a mild antibiotic.

The reported cases of humans developing Bartonellosis may be rare, but the complications can be very serious, even life-threatening. Undetected, cat scratch disease can cause brain damage and affect the heart and other human organs. Cases of blindness in children have also been associated with cat scratch disease, so if you own a cat be very aware of the potential seriousness of the disease.

Be mindful that the symptoms in cats are often unnoticeable. Humans can take weeks before they show signs of being infected. Preventing Bartonellosis from being transmitted is as much about prevention as it is in noticing the symptoms.

Transmitting Cat Scratch Disease

Since there must be a host to transmit Bartonellosis, a source of the bacteria must exist. Cat scratch disease is transmitted primarily from a scratch from a cat or kitten, therefore the appropriate name. Since an untreated flea infestation is necessary to create the bacteria, stray cats are very susceptible. People who handle stray cats should be extra cautious.

Although the lifespan outside of the host is very short, the Bartonella bacteria can live on a cat’s fur, or on clothing and fabric long enough to be transmitted. Ticks may also be carriers of the bacteria, but there is no evidence to indicate that humans can be infected in this manner. If you have to remove a tick from your cat, clean the area well and consider having your cat tested just to be on the safe side.

To prevent transmitting the disease, keep bedding clean for all animals in the house if Bartonella is detected. Even though the bacteria become harmless in a short period, wash your hands immediately after handling a cat that is being treated for a flea problem.

Cat Scratch Disease Prevention

two female veterinarians taking care of a cat

Statistics compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that as many as 40% of cats carry Bartonella at some time in their lives. People do not need to be bitten or scratched by a cat. The bacteria can survive in cat fur and easily be transmitted to humans by petting an infected cat.

If you discover your cat has a flea problem, treat it immediately, plus have a veterinarian run a check for Bartonella. The bacteria have a short lifespan, so treatment is usually not necessary, but the flea problem must be corrected to prevent future infection.

If your cat is diagnosed with the bacteria, brush their coat frequently, disposing of all the hair. Scan for flea remains, or flea droppings. Keep your cat as clean as possible until all signs of fleas are gone, and have your cat retested for Bartonella to be certain the problem is fixed.

If you find fleas on your cat, get rid of them. Take your cat to see a veterinarian and ask they be tested for Bartonella. If the tests are positive that the bacteria exists, don’t panic, just set a rigid schedule for keeping your cat clean until the problem is gone.

Any human that has come in contact should have a test run for Bartonellosis. While serious complications are rare, they can be serious if not swiftly treated. Cat scratch disease does exist, but it can be eliminated if tended to properly. Eliminate fleas, keep your cat clean, and have them tested by a veterinarian.

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