Cat Scratch Disease

Cat scratch disease is also called "cat scratch fever," and it is a real disease that you can get from being scratched by a cat. It doesn't necessarily have to be a scratch, however - that is the most common cause, but coming into contact with a cat can be enough to get it. That doesn't mean you should freak out about touching cats. There is a reason that it usually only happens because of scratches - they make it much easier for the bacteria to infect the wound. It mostly happens to children (who have weaker immune systems generally) and to vets (who get scratched all the time). The disease is caused by a bacteria called Bartonella, which a sold minority of adult cats have.


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What are the symptoms?

This is not a particularly serious or dangerous disease. It shows up in the form of enlargement of the lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are little glands that are a part of your immune system, and they are located in your armpit, groin, neck, and chest. When you get it, they work overtime and can start to swell. This lasts for about a month or so, and they may drain pus. Other symptoms include fevers, lethargy, headaches, and loss of appetite.

What is the treatment?

Usually your doctor will just tell you to wait it out. The immune system will heal it on its own within three to six weeks in the vast majority of cases. If the person shows more severe symptoms, the doctor may want to use antibiotics to speed it up. There isn't a cure that will instantly make it go away.

Do I need to get rid of my cat if I get sick?

No. First of all, even most people who get scratched don't get it. Second, this is not a disease that you get multiple times. No one has ever been seen catching it again after the first time - your immune system will have antibodies to the bartonella, and like the chicken pox, you're done and don't have to worry about it. However, other members of your family could still get it from the cat. Also remember that transmissions are not that common - some estimates are that 30-40% of all cats have this bacteria, but you don't hear about cases all that often.

One MAJOR exception though - if someone in your household has a weakened immune system because of AIDS or another disease. Then you should talk to your doctor about the risks.

Also - kittens are more likely to transmit this disease, and as they get older, they are less likely to give it to people. So if your cat is still young, just wait it out and know it is nowhere near as likely to happen when the cat grows up.

Does declawing stop my cat from giving me cat scratch disease?

No. It is in the cat itself, so you could still get it, and a bite from your cat could cause it as well as just general contact. However, it would obviously keep you from being scratched, and thus make it less likely.

Do I have to worry about my cat getting sick from it?

Nope. Cats have the bacteria, but it does not appear to do anything to them. They just carry it around. It's not very contagious among cats, either.

Can I get it without contact from a cat?

This is unlikely, but it is at least theoretically possible you could get it from contact with a person who had it. Many people who get it don't show any signs other than what you'd get with a mild cold. It is also possible, but not likely, that you could get it from fleas. Fleas transmit it from cat to cat - but at this time it is thought that they can't transmit it to people. However, the disease really isn't that well understood. The cause was only discovered fairly recently.

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