Chances are we give very little thought to the possibility of getting sick from our cats until someone mentions the dreaded disease -- cat scratch fever. So what is cat scratch disease, how can it be prevented and is there a vaccine against it for you or your cat?
What is Cat Scratch Fever?
Cat scratch disease, commonly known as cat scratch fever, is a nasty infection caused by the Bartonella henselae bacteria. About 40 percent of the U.S. cat population carry the bacteria at some point in their lives. Your cat can pick up the B. henselae bacteria by licking and cleaning his fur that has been infested with fleas, or by eating birds or mice. Infected cats don’t show any signs of illness and can pass on the infection to you through rough play or by licking open sores. You can also pick up the bacteria by rubbing your eyes before washing your hands after playing with cats or kittens.
Is There a Vaccine?
The bad news is there is currently no CSD vaccine for either humans or cats. The good news is having one episode of cat scratch disease usually makes people immune for the rest of their lives. Always consult an experienced veterinarian regarding the health and treatment of your pet, as well as your health-care provider regarding your health and well being.
How Serious is CSD?
Most often the symptoms are mild and will eventually go away on their own, although anyone who suspects they have CSD should seek immediate medical advice. The disease appears first as small bumps on the skin. Minor body aches and swelling of the lymph nodes usually follows in a few weeks. In more serious cases, painful swollen lymph nodes, fever, headache, fatigue, joint pain, skin eruptions and weight loss can continue for months. People with weak immune systems can develop serious complications including enlargement of the spleen and heart valve infections.
Minimizing the Risks
Your mom was right, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Some methods of prevention including getting rid of fleas and washing your hands thoroughly after playing with cats or cleaning the litter box. Play nice with cats to avoid bites and scratches, and don’t let cats lick your wounds or your face. Share your home and heart with your cats, but not your spoon or fork. And consult your physician at the first sign of infection.
The CDC and ASPCA both have more detailed information about the disease and how it affects both humans and cats.
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.
Jenny Newberry, a former teacher with 25 years of experience, is a professional writer and photographer and holds a B.S. and a M.Ed. in elementary and special education from the University of South Alabama. She is also a history buff, praise and worship pianist, pet enthusiast, avid crafter and hobby gardener.