If your kitty is among the 40 percent of felines who carry cat scratch fever at some point during their life, then he might have made you sick. While the disease isn't dangerous for a healthy adult, it is a serious problem for immune-compromised individuals and very young children.
As its name suggests, cat scratch fever is transmitted to humans through open scratch wounds from felines. You can also catch the disease from a bite wound, so clean all injuries from cats with antibacterial soap and warm water to prevent infection. The Bartonella bacteria responsible for the disease is actually found in flea feces, so cats can transmit it after biting or scratching an area of skin that is infested by fleas. Not all cases of cat scratch fever in humans are linked to a bite or scratch wound, so some experts believe that exposure to flea feces or contact with other animals can also cause infection, according to The Winn Feline Feline Health Foundation.
The bacteria responsible for cat scratch fever is common, but human infections are relatively rare in the United States. Surveys have found that between 25 and 41 percent of cats harbor the pathogen at any one time, but it is estimated that there are only 2.5 cases per 100,000 people in the US each year, according to The Winn Feline Health Foundation. Cats and kittens living in hot and humid climates are the most likely to carry the disease. Felines in the temperate Great Plains region have a much lower rate of infection than those in southeastern states.
The main risk factor for your cat or kitten is the presence of fleas. Since the bacteria is almost exclusively transmitted through flea excrement, managing flea infestations is the key to reducing the risk of cat scratch fever. Your cat or kitten can still carry the disease after the fleas are gone, however. You are more likely to catch the disease from a kitten rather than a cat, because kittens tend to be more aggressive during play sessions, according to the ASPCA.
Symptoms and Treatment
It doesn't hurt to keep an eye out for the symptoms of cat scratch fever in yourself and your family members, especially if you live in a high-risk area. General warning signs include fever, headache and fatigue. Other serious symptoms include joint pain, swollen lymph nodes and skin lesions. While most healthy individuals will simply heal on their own, children, as well as people suffering from a weak immune system may need emergency care to prevent the disease from getting out of hand.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Quentin Coleman has written for various publications, including All Pet News and Safe to Work Australia. He spent more tan 10 years nursing kittens, treating sick animals and domesticating semi-feral cats for a local animal shelter. He graduated from the University of Delaware with a bachelor's degree in journalism.