Cat-Scratch Disease(CSD) or commonly known as cat-scratch fever is a common zoonotic infection that often affect young children in many parts of the world. It is a disease spread by flea-infected cats or kittens. The bacterial microbes, Bartonella henselae, is the proven cause of cat-scratch fever. B. henselae residing in cat flea can get into the bloodstream, saliva, or the claws of cats through bite or flea feces. When a child or adult get bitten, scratched, or licked by an infected cat, CSD infection can occur. If a cat saliva made contact with eyes or other mucosal surfaces such as nose and mouth, CSD can occur as well.
The first symptom of CSD is usually bumps or blisters at the bite or scratch points. The skin lesion may be red, warm to the touch, swollen, and slightly painful or itchy. The child may have a mild fever(usually less than 101°F) and swollen lymph nodes closest to the cat-inflicted wounds. Lymph nodes under the arms, neck, jaw, and ears are more prone to the infections as most feline contacts are likely to be on the upper part of the body. Lymph nodes around legs and groins can be affected as well if the child is scratched or bitten on the leg or toe. The child may experience fatigue, loss of appetite, chills, headache, or pain in various parts of the body.
Although generally benign and pose no long-term health risk, the infected child may suffer some degree of discomfort during the course of the infection and possibly have to stay at home to recover. This may result in temporary loss of schooling and require a parent or a caretaker to stay home as well. In the United States, it is estimated 40% of cats are infected by Bartonella henselae. House cats, especially kittens, can be just as infectious as stray cats. Since many families keep cats as family members, it is important for parents to take appropriate precautions as a preventive measure.
It is important to teach children from young to always wash hands thoroughly with soap and running water after playing with an animal, whether it is a cat or other animals. If an injury occurred even it is just a scratch, soap and wash are also recommended. Young children need to be taught how to interact gently with a cat without forcefully trying to pull, touch, or cuddle an unwilling cat or kitten. Rough housing with cat often resulted in a scratch or bite. Encourage children to refrain from touching stray or feral cats. If a house cat does not mind, it is better to keep the cat indoor at all time to prevent flea transmission. When looking for a new cat for the family, consider an older cat as they are less inclined than kitten to scratch or bite during play. Also, older cats are less likely to have the bacteria present in their blood which make them less infectious than kittens.
Having a free-ranging cat to wear flea collar and regular application of veterinarian approved medication can keep flea population in checked. Flea-bath or flea-combing can also be helpful in preventing flea infestation. Having a cat checked out by a veterinarian if the cat is sick is appropriate even though most cats can be infected but show no sign of any illness. Frequent vacuuming, washing, or changing of soft furnishings around the house such as carpet, sofa, bed sheets, or pillow casings will prevent the accumulation of flea and flea feces. If a cat is unwilling to have its toenails trimmed, it is wise to invest in at least a couple of good cat scratching poles or cat scratching boards to keep the claws short.
With sufficient precaution and education, the disease can be prevented. In most cases, an infected child will recover fully in a timely manner and acquire life-long immunity from the disease.