It’s not just a song by Ted Nugent! Each year in the U.S. alone 25,000 cases of Cat Scratch Fever in humans require brief hospitalization. The first documented case of Cat Scratch Fever (also known as Cat Scratch Disease) was in 1992. It is a zoonotic illness caused by a species of bacteria known as Bartonella Heneslae. More than 2 dozen strains of Bartonella have been identified! Since the discovery of Cat Scratch Fever was so recent, medical science is still in the process of understanding it.
How is Cat Scratch Fever transmitted?
Typically, Cat Scratch Fever starts with cat fleas. Cat fleas that are carrying the Bartonella bacteria defecate on their host – a cat. When the cat cleans itself, it ingests the flea feces and thus the Baronella bacteria. Humans become infected with the disease when an infected cat bites or scratches them. There is no proof that a human can be infected directly by a flea.
Recently it has been found that other parasites can also carry Bartonella. Among these parasites are ticks, rodent fleas, human body lice, and sand flies. There are other biting flies and wingless flies that are also suspected of carrying Bartonella.
The number of animal hosts of Cat Scratch Fever is also growing as more is learned about the illness. Cats and humans were the first to be noted, but it also affects dogs, rabbits, rodents, deer, kangaroos, cows, sheep, gray squirrels, flying squirrels, ground hogs, and more.
The Symptoms of Cat Scratch Fever
The symptoms of Cat Scratch Fever can vary depending on the infected species. Humans and dogs appear to have the same symptoms while cats have their own set of symptoms. It can take anywhere from 7 days to 8 weeks after infection for symptoms to appear.
Symptoms and Diagnosis in Cats
Kittens under 1 year of age are the most likely to have the illness, but it can affect cats of any age. Cats may show the following symptoms:
- Lack of appetite
- Swollen glands
- Deep eye infections
- Muscle pain
- Endocarditis (inflammation of the heart)
- Red swollen gums in kittens (Bartonella may be a cause of Plasma Cell Stomatitis in cats)
- Reproductive issues
Diagnosing a cat with Cat Scratch Fever can be very tedious. It can be done either through tests which check for the cat’s natural antibodies against Bartonella or through a blood culture. Since not all infected cats produce antibodies to Bartonella, the blood culture tends to be the most accurate. However, Bartonella appears only intermittently in the blood stream so it can take several cultures to definitely determine whether or not a cat has Cat Scratch Fever.
Symptoms and Diagnosis in Humans
For humans with a normal immune system, symptoms of Cat Scratch Fever are generally mild. As with other diseases, people who are immunocompromised are at the most risk for developing severe problems. Common symptoms in humans (and dogs) include:
- Mild fever
- Swollen lymph nodes (especially around the head, neck and arms)
- Reddish, rounded bump near the site of the infection
- Generally feeling ill
- Abdominal cramps
- Lack of appetite
- Muscle pain
Most people who become ill with Cat Scratch Fever are under the age of 21. Due to the somewhat general nature of the symptoms, Cat Scratch Fever is not easily diagnosed by symptoms alone. A general medical doctor or family physician will likely be able to make a diagnosis by performing a blood test and checking the patient’s spleen for swelling.
Treatment & Prevention
Treatment for Cat Scratch Fever varies by species as well. An infected cat will likely be given antibiotics such as Azithromycin (which clears up 80% of Cat Scratch Fever cases in cats within 3 weeks). Any parts of the body that are affected by the infection are given supportive therapy until the symptoms are relieved. In cats a Cat Scratch Fever infection may not be able to clear itself up without medical intervention.
Humans often are able to recover from a Cat Scratch Fever infection without much medical intervention. Rarely is the infection fatal. Sometimes a doctor will choose to prescribe antibiotics to help clear up the infection.
Prevention is the best cure there is! There is no vaccine available for Cat Scratch Fever. However, keeping your home clear of fleas and ticks can go a long way! Using flea preventatives can help your kitties from becoming infected, which in turn keeps you from becoming infected. Also, make sure that you and your children interact gently with stray or feral cats and kittens. Avoid getting scratched or bitten! Good hygiene – washing your hands after touching an unfamiliar cat – can prevent infection as well.
Have you ever known anyone who was infected with Cat Scratch Fever?
Sources & Digging Deeper