Symptoms of Cat Scratch Disease
Cat scratch disease is a malady spread by cats, but that affects only humans; it’s also called cat scratch fever. Disease symptoms are most frequently diagnosed in the colder winter and fall months of the year for reasons scientists don’t understand; it’s possible that cats are more likely to be indoors at this time, increasing the chance of human exposure overall to feline diseases.
Cat scratch disease is produced by bacteria called Bartonella henselea that usually lives in the mouths of cats. They spread it to their claws through routine grooming. Interestingly, it is not transmitted through cat bites, only through cat scratches.
Most Americans have been exposed to this malady, and 5% of the US population has antibodies in their blood but no history of clinical malady. Because antibodies are only made in response to the invasion of a disease, it is clear that they were exposed to Bartonella directly. It is possible that they did not subsequently become ill, or that the disease was mistaken for the flu.
This disease presents flu-like symptoms. The most common symptoms include fever, chills, and lethargy, but they last for only a few days, much shorter than most flu’s.
There is a more severe kind of that causes high fever, anorexia, weakness, and badly swollen lymph nodes, particularly in the armpits and groin area. Sometimes the lymph swelling gets so severe that the swelling spontaneously ruptures; at other times, doctors choose to surgically drain them to prevent the rupture and relieve the pain.
Typically, the most serious form of the disease is seen in younger children and the elderly, and people with frail immune systems, such as those who have HIV, are receiving chemotherapy, or who have been the recipient of an organ donation. When the serious form of the disease presents itself, the consequences for the victim can be disability or even death.
If the disease in humans is treated immediately with antibiotics, the outcome is generally good, but it’s very hard to diagnose because cat scratch disease symptoms it’s so similar to flu and because it is not a oft-seen disease. The symptoms are often overlooked in its earliest stages, and only caught when the lymph nodes are involved. Almost every documented case follows a cat scratch wound; a few occur after a bite, and a few even crop up with no noticeable cause.
Another oddity of cat scratch disease is that occasionally are adult cats involved in the transmission. Generally, a kitten passes the disease. This does not mean you should not worry about it with an older cat, but only that you should worry more about kittens. It is infectious for only about two or three weeks in a kitten, after which it goes dormant. It can return, however.
Kittens can be diagnosed as carriers by a simple blood test, and positive kittens can be treated successfully with antibiotics. Because this disease can come back, however, this is not a silver bullet for thwarting it. De-clawing kittens at an early age is the best way to prevent infection. You should be aware of the consequences to the cat before de-clawing it, however. Not only can it be dangerous for the cat to go outside, it can also be psychologically traumatic and cause unexpected complications like arthritis.
There are a few alternatives to de-clawing your cat, such as claw covers or trimming back their claws, but you will have to be wary if you are in a home with an immunocompromised person.
Fewer than ten percent of family members scratched by a cat carrying the disease will develop the sickness, and very serious illness from the disease is rare. If you’ve been exposed once, you are almost surely immune to it afterward.
Cat scratch disease must not be confused with other feline malady’s, such as the cat-borne disease, toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis is poisonous to a pregnant woman’s fetus, but presents in different ways and is more likely to be inhaled when a woman changes the litter box. Symptoms can be risky to a pregnant woman as well, but in an entirely different way.