Cat-scratch fever is also known as the cat-scratch disease(CSD). It is a bacterial infection caused by the organism Bartonella henselae residing in cat fleas or cat ticks. A person can contract the disease by getting bitten or scratched by an infected cat or kitten. Exposure to feline saliva on scab, unhealed wound or mucous surfaces such as eyes, nose, and mouth can also lead to cat-scratch fever. This disease is widely found worldwide although mostly untreated. In temperate areas, cat-scratch fever is particularly thriving in autumn and early winter, coinciding with flea mating season and rises of kitten births in late summer. Young children are more susceptible to cat-scratch fever as they are more likely to play with kittens but yet to developed the immunity for the disease.
The first tell-tale sign of cat-scratch fever is the development of bumps or blisters at the bite or scratch sites. The skin lesion may have pus, and feel warm and swollen to the touch. The infected person may suffer from fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, headache, and pain in various parts of the body. Lymph node closest to the injured site may become swollen, red, and painful. In rare cases, fluid may leak from the lymph nodes. Lymph nodes under the arms, around the jaw, neck, and ear area are prone to the effects of CSD as a bite or scratch injury usually occurs in the upper part of a body. If a person’s leg or toe is bitten or scratched, lymph nodes in the leg or groin area may be affected.
Cat-scratch fever generally does not pose a long term health risk and run its course without medication in about 2-5 weeks. However, swollen lymph nodes may persist for months. Young children and young adults usually developed the antibody for the disease after an episode of CSD infection and acquire life-long immunity. Cat-scratch fever is not transmittable from human to human.
Antibiotics are sometimes prescribed for young children and people with a weak immune system for advanced cases of CSD. Azithromycin, doxycycline, ciprofloxacin, gentamicin, rifampicin, and trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole are some of the medication that are prescribed to treat CSD. Azithromycin is safer for a pregnant patient while doxycycline works better with CSD patient with eye or nerve complications.
In rare cases, cat-scratch fever can lead to serious health risk affecting the brain, nervous systems, eyes, skin and bones, heart, and internal organs. Young children under the age of five and persons with weak immune systems are more vulnerable to the development of complications. Due care should always be observed and medical consultation is recommended.
It is always a safe practice to wash hands thoroughly with soap and running water after playing with a cat or any pet in general. Do not play rough with cats or attempt to touch or cuddle an unwilling cat/kitten to avoid getting scratches and bites. Entertain your cats with toys on sticks or long strings. Petting or touching stray or feral cat is not recommended. Wash area that are bitten or scratched with soap and running water as soon as possible. If pet saliva gets into an eye, rinse the affected eye with eye wash solution immediately. Do not let a cat lick any open wound or scab. Keep house cat indoor if possible and provide cat scratching poles to keep claws shorts. Control house cat flea infestation by applying veterinarian approved medication as recommended. Frequent vacuuming and cleaning of soft furnishes such as sofa, carpet, and bed are effective means of preventing cat-scratch fever from spreading.