Cat Scratch Fever is an infection in humans that is caused by cats. Cat Scratch Fever is caused by bacteria called Bartonella henselae, and cats become infected by fleas carrying the bacteria, or fighting with other cats that are already infected. About 40% of cats will become infected in their lifetime, but most cats that are infected show no signs of disease! If an infected cat becomes sick, it shows up as inflammation of gums or other organs, or flu-like symptoms, including fever.
People can become infected by Bartonella a couple of ways
- People can develop cat scratch fever after being bitten or scratched (breaking the skin) by an infected cat or
- infection can occur if an infected cat licks an open wound on a human.
About 3-14 days after a person is bitten or scratched by an infected cat, a localized infection often occurs at the site. The bite wound can be red, swollen, hot, painful, or ooze pus, and the lymph node closest to the wound can become swollen. If red streaks occur at the site of the wound, or the bitten person feels sick (headache, nausea, lethargy, fever), then the person most likely has been infected with Bartonella. While Bartonella infections are rarely serious, on rare occasions a person can develop serious complications. The very young and people with compromised immune systems are most at risk.
Fortunately, cat scratch fever is easily treated with antibiotics, and can be prevented by washing the area thoroughly with soap and water. If you have been bitten or scratched, copiously wash the area with soap and water for 5-10 minutes, apply a triple antibiotic ointment, and call your doctor immediately for further recommendations.