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Am I at risk for Cat Scratch Fever

Am I at risk for Cat Scratch Fever

Question:

What are the chances of me getting cat scratch fever from my cat?  She only goes outdoors in our back yard and then only in the summer months.

Answer:

Cat Scratch Fever is a zoonotic disease that can affect humans who have had prolonged contact with an infected cat. In cats, the disease is known as Feline Bartonellosis and is caused by bacteria called Bartonella henselae.

All ages, breeds, and sexes of cat can potentially get Bartonellosis but usually kittens under one year of age, kittens or cats infested with fleas or ticks, and feral cats or former strays are much more likely to be infected with the bacteria. Fleas seem to play a major role in cat-to-cat and possibly cat-to-human transmission.

Bartonellosis is a difficult disease to detect in cats because they can be infected with the bacteria for several months and even years and never show any symptoms.   It is reported that up to 60% of cats test positive for the disease, depending on geographical region (the incidence is higher in warm, humid climates). 

By contrast, clinical signs of infection are often seen in humans, particularly in children who get symptoms about 1-2 weeks after getting scratched. However, like cats, in some people, there may be no symptoms at all.   

If clinical signs do appear, the first ones are usually swollen and painful lymph nodes, followed by chills, fever, decreased appetite and weight loss.   The lymph nodes can remain swollen for several months even after all other symptoms have resolved. There can also be nausea and vomiting.  Skin lesions can include red to purple bumps (known as "papules") at the site where the infection first appeared. In very rare cases, encephalitis, meningitis, hepatitis and pneumonia can occur.

Since the disease usually causes no clinical signs in cats, treatment is rarely necessary. Similarly with the majority of people, cat scratch disease is usually benign and self-limiting.  When symptoms do occur or become a significant problem, response to antibiotics is excellent. 

Fatalities are extremely rare. Cat Scratch Disease is considered to be the most common cause of chronic benign lymph-node swellings in children and young adults. Most cases are contracted from domestic kittens and cats (90%), especially young cats with fleas. A cat scratch of some sort usually turns up in the history in more than 80% of cases.

What are the chances that you will get Cat Scratch fever from your cat?  Probably low. It depends on where your cat came from, and whether or not she had the opportunity at any time to come in contact with infected cats or fleas and ticks.  Admittedly, a strictly indoor cat is significantly less likely to contract this disease than an outdoor cat.

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