Though cats are good to keep as pets, pet owners need to take precautions to prevent cat scratch fever, which is a bacterial infection that can be transmitted by cat bites or scratches.
Cat scratch fever, also known as cat scratch disease, is highly prevalent in the United States. Research shows that around 24,000 people are affected by this disease every year. It is most commonly seen in children and people who often play with cats.
The causative agent of this disease is the gram negative rod-shaped bacterium known as Bartonella henselae. This bacterium is found worldwide. Fleas act as vectors to carry it and transmit it to cats. It lives in the paws, saliva, and skin of the cats and kittens. This disease is transmitted to human beings through cat bites and scratches. Cats carry this bacterium with them, but it does not make them sick.
The most common symptom is the swelling of the lymph glands. The gland gets swollen near the area where the person has been scratched, and can swell up to an inch. The scratched area first becomes red, and then turns into a bump after two days.
A cat may also scratch while biting. The infection may be accompanied by fever that can reach up to a 102 degrees Fahrenheit. You will feel pain in the lymph glands, which may continue for two to three weeks. After two weeks, the lesions become pustular and there is enlargement of the cervical and axillary lymph nodes. Finally, necrosis of the skin lesions occurs. If not properly taken care of, the symptoms can persist for months.
Other complications of this disease are observed in people with a weak immune system, like cancer or AIDS patients. The following symptoms may be observed in such people who have been affected by this condition:
- Granulomatous Conjunctivitis: It affects the whites of the eye, causing redness and allergic reactions. Blurred vision and itching are other symptoms of conjunctivitis.
- Bacillary Angiomatosis: People suffering from HIV are prone to this bacterial infection. The symptoms of this disease include nausea, fever, chills, perspiration, and loss of weight.
- Bacillary Peliosis: This is another type of bacterial infection known to occur in HIV patients due to this disease. The symptoms include enlargement of liver and spleen, with blood-filled cavities.
- Regional Lymphadenitis: Characterized by flu-like symptoms with enlargement of the lymph nodes, the symptoms stay for a few days, and subside if adequate care is taken.
- Optic Neuritis: This condition causes inflammation in one or both the optic nerves and affects the retina of the eye, causing eye pain. It may be accompanied with foggy vision and reduced brightness sense.
- Brain Encephalopathy: The symptoms can be improper functioning of brain, headaches, and meningitis.
Wash your hands with an antibacterial soap and water, after touching a cat. This helps to get rid of the bacteria in case it is present in the fur and paws of the cat. If by chance, you get a scratch from the cat, clean the affected area properly with soap and water. Do not play with cats or provoke them, as cat behavior differs from species to species. Never allow them to lick on cuts or wounds. Keep children away from cats. Children love to pull cats’ tail and play with them, but this may annoy a cat causing it to scratch the child.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Testing a blood sample will confirm whether or not you are suffering from this disease. If you experience pain and swelling of the lymph nodes for more than a week or two, then it is best to consult your physician. You will be put on an antibiotic treatment for two to three months. Antibiotics help reduce the bacterial infections in the bones and other organs of the body. In case, the pain is extreme, a doctor can help in reducing the pain by draining out some fluid from the swollen lymph node using a syringe.
Cat scratch disease can be completely cured, if it is diagnosed in the early stages. Keep your home clean and your pet cat free from fleas. After all, prevention is always better than cure.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a veterinarian.