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Cat Scratch Fever

Definition

Cat scratch fever is a bacterial infection you can get from being scratched or bitten by a cat, kitten, or sometimes a dog. This usually goes away without treatment. But it can become a serious condition that requires care from your doctor.

Causes

The bacteria that cause cat scratch fever are found in fleas. They are passed on to cats through flea bites. They are passed on to humans through a cat scratch or bite.

Risk Factors

The most common risk factor is being bitten or scratched by a cat or kitten.

Symptoms

Cat scratch fever may cause:

  • A crusting sore or blister that forms over the site of a cat scratch or bite
  • Swollen, painful lymph nodes
  • Low fever
  • Flu-like symptoms such as weakness, nausea, chills, loss of appetite, and body aches
Swollen Lymph Nodes
IMAGE
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Some people may develop complications, such as a very high fever or pneumonia. Severe cases have caused infections of the brain (encephalitis), hepatitis, and even death.

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. If you remember that you were bitten or scratched by a cat, your doctor may be able to diagnose the disease based your symptoms. Your doctor may want a blood test if the diagnosis is not clear.

Treatment

Cat-scratch fever usually clears up without treatment. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include:

  • Non-prescription pain relievers, such as acetaminophen
  • Antibiotics—If your doctor feels it is necessary, antibiotics can be prescribed to help prevent worsening infection or the spread of the infection to other parts of the body. This may be used especially if you are very ill or you have a weakened immune system.
  • Lymph node drainage—If a lymph node is very swollen or very painful, your doctor may drain it to help it heal and to relieve pain. To do this, your doctor will put a needle into the swollen node. Fluid inside the node will drain out through the needle.

Prevention

To reduce your chance of cat scratch fever:

  • Keep your pets free of fleas.
  • Immediately wash any bites with soap and water.
  • Avoid situations when you may be scratched or bitten by a cat or a dog.

Revision Information

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

    http://www.cdc.gov

  • Winn Feline Foundation

    http://www.winnfelinehealth.org

  • Canadian Veterinary Medical Association

    http://www.canadianveterinarians.net

  • Health Canada

    http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

  • Cat scratch disease. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/diseases/cat-scratch.html. Updated June 23, 2011. Accessed December 31, 2012.

  • Cat-scratch disease. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated October 25, 2012. Accessed December 31, 2012.

  • Chomel BB. Cat-scratch disease. Rev Sci Tech. 2000;19(1):136-150.

  • Conrad DA. Treatment of cat-scratch disease. Curr Opin Pediatr. 2001;13(1):56-59.

  • Klotz SA, Ianas V, et al. Cat-scratch disease. Am Fam Physician. 2011;83(2):152-155.

  • Lamps LW, Scott MA. Cat-scratch disease: historic, clinical, and pathologic perspectives. Am J Clin Pathol. 2004;121 Suppl:S71-80.

  • Windsor JJ. Cat-scratch disease: epidemiology, aetiology, and treatment. Br J Biomed Sci. 2001;58(2):101-110.