Can Cat-Scratch Disease Lead to Eye Infections?

Cat-scratch disease(CSD) or commonly known as cat-scratch fever is generally a benign bacterial infection caused by cat scratches or bites. The organism Bartonella henselae, residing in cat fleas, has been identified in 1990s to be the bacterium that causes this disease. The usual symptoms of cat scratch disease are usually bumps or blisters at scratched or bite points, fever, and swollen lymph nodes closest to the injured points. An infected person may feel lethargic, weak, lack of appetite, pain or discomfort in various parts of a body. With proper rest and care, the disease usually runs its course in about four to five weeks requiring little medical treatment if any.

clawsHowever, if the saliva of a disease-carrying cat somehow gets into a person’s eye, there is a possibility that eye infection may develop. Similarly, if a person is scratched or bitten near or on the eye area, an eye infection may occur. Rubbing one’s eyes with contaminated hand after touching a cat may also transfer the organism into the eyes. The infection causes inflammation of the neural retina and optic nerve in what is medically termed as neuro-retinitis, characterized by a star-shaped mass circling the center of the retina. The patient may experience some level of temporary visual loss in sharpness and color perceptions.  Although the eye infection may look alarming, it is usually painless. The visual deficiency may strike suddenly and gradually improve after a couple of weeks. Oral medication such as prednisolone may be administered for serious cases. The inflammation generally does not cause long-term visual impairment, but there are rare cases of exception. As recent as early 2015, an Ohio woman is blinded in one eye from her cat’s affectionate licking.

Young children under the age of five years old and adults with weakened immune system are more vulnerable to various CSD complications. Appropriate precautions should be observed constantly to avoid contracting the cat-scratch disease.

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