How Common is Cat Scratch Disease (Cat Scratch Fever)?


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Cat Scratch Disease (CSD), also known as Cat Scratch Fever or lymphoreticulosis, is a bacterial infection that is spread by cats. The bacteria responsible for CSD is called Bartonella henselae, and around 40% of cats carry this bacteria in their mouths or under their claws which means that you can get CSD pretty easily. Luckily, though, the average annual incidence of CSD is just 4.5 cases per 100,000 people.

If you’ve ever wondered about CSD or how common it is, keep reading to find out more.

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How Common Is CSD?

CSD is a relatively rare condition. Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention set out to determine how often CSD is diagnosed. Their report reviewed health insurance claims from 2005 to 2013 to determine the average annual incidence of CSD.

Their study found that the highest incidence was in the southern states and children between five and nine were the most commonly diagnosed population. Children under 14 accounted for over 30% of all diagnoses. In adults, women between the ages of 60 to 64 were at the highest risk.

Immunocompromised people are at a higher risk of developing severe complications due to CSD.

scratches-holding-bengal-cat_AJR_photo_shutterstock
Credit: AJR_photo, Shutterstock

How Does CSD Spread?

The infection spreads when an infected cat licks a human’s open wound or breaks the skin’s surface through biting or scratching. Once the skin’s surface has been broken, the bacteria can enter your body.

Cats can get the Bartonella henselae bacteria through flea bites and droppings that find their way into a wound. When cats scratch or bite the fleas, they can also pick up the infected droppings and carry it under their nails or in their teeth. Cats can also spread the infection by fighting with one another.

Most cats that have B. henselae infection are asymptomatic or only show mild fever and swollen lymph nodes, but humans who become infected can suffer from more serious problems.

What Are the Symptoms of CSD?

The first symptom you may notice is a red or swollen cat bite or scratch that doesn’t heal or worsens over time.

Glands near the scratch or bite site may begin to swell. For example, your underarm glands may become painful and swollen if you were scratched or bitten on the arm or hand. Flu-like symptoms are another common side effect of CSD. This includes fever, joint pain, inappetence, headache, and fatigue.

In rare cases, CSD can lead to neurologic and heart problems. Seizures, meningoencephalitis, endocarditis are possible outcomes. These complications are more likely to occur in immunocompromised individuals.

How Is CSD Treated?

The best thing to do is take steps to prevent CSD in the first place. Ideally keep your cat on a flea preventative and always wash your hands after handling your cat’s feces.If you’re in generally good health, your symptoms of CSD may simply go away without any treatment at all. General aches and pains with over-the-counter medications can be considered. Your physician may prescribe antibiotics for severe cases.

cat at vet with owner and veternarian
Image Credit: 4 PM production, Shutterstock

What Are the Complications of CSD?

Most healthy individuals won’t develop any complications from CSD. However, people with weakened immune systems or those who are young or old may be more at risk of complications.

Bacillary angiomatosis is a skin disorder commonly seen in people with HIV. It causes cutaneous lesions that become red and elevated. This condition can become more widespread and can even cause damage to internal organs. If left untreated, bacillary angiomatosis can become fatal.

Parinaud’s oculoglandular syndrome is a condition that is similar to conjunctivitis (pink eye). It causes red and painful eyes, fever, and swollen lymph nodes. This syndrome most often affects just one eye and can require surgery to clean away any infected tissues.

Should I Declaw My Cat to Reduce the Risk of CSD?

Declawing is unnecessary, provides no benefit to your cat, and can actually cause more problems such as joint stiffness, arthritis, and litter box problems. Moreover, it is illegal in many countries and some states. Many people seem to think that declawing is akin to trimming your fingernails, but it actually involves amputating the last bone in each of a cat’s toes! is never the answer.

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Final Thoughts

Cat scratch fever is a relatively rare condition that most pet owners don’t need to spend much time worrying about. If you’re healthy, you’re likely to recover from CSD quickly. If you develop complications, your physician can treat you, but it’s best to seek treatment as soon as possible, especially if you have a weakened immune system.


Featured Image Credit: Alexandra_Koch, Pixabay



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