Cat-scratch disease

Cause

A bacterium, usually Bartonella spp. from a cat, which infects a person through a scratch or bite injury, or an open wound.

Description

Cat-scratch disease (cat-scratch fever) is an infection that causes swelling of the lymph nodes (swollen glands) after an animal scratch.

It usually takes 3-10 days for a blister to appear at the site of a cat scratch. Lymph node swelling usually begins about two weeks after the cat scratch, with a range of 7-60 days.

A cat with the infection does not look sick, and the animal can carry the infectious bacteria in its blood for several months. It is believed that up to 44% of cats have the infection at some time in their lives.

Where the disease occurs

The disease can occur anywhere. Worldwide, the disease affects nine out of every 100,000 people each year, and multiple cases within families are common, especially among brothers and sisters who have the same pet cat. Over 80% of cases affect children and young people under the age of 21.

How people can get the disease

Most cases of this disease have some apparent sign of a recent scratch or bite from an animal. The disease can be contracted from other animals but cats are commonly responsible. Scratches, bites or licking a person's broken skin may introduce the bacterium.

Treatments for people
  • Some doctors prescribe antibiotics to treat the disease.
  • Non-prescription medicines will relieve the pain of swollen lymph nodes and lower a fever.
  • A child with cat-scratch disease does not need to be isolated from other family members. Bed rest is not necessary.
Preventing the disease in people
  • Teach children to avoid stray or 'strange' cats.
  • If scratched or bitten by a cat or other animal - even a household pet - wash the injured area thoroughly with soap and water.

Last updated 08 January 2014