What Is Cat Scratch Disease?

An iVillage interview with Leonard Marcus, M.D., D.V.M.

Carried by approximately 30 percent of the feline population, cat scratch disease, also called Cat Scratch Fever, is caused by the bacteria Bartonella henselae, which is found in fleas that inhabit the cat.

What is the best way to clean a cat scratch?

The washing of any wound or scratch should be handled like any other type of injury. Let it bleed for a while and then wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water. A minimum of contact time for washing out a wound is 30 seconds.

What are the symptoms of cat scratch disease?

The symptoms vary a great deal. With a classical case of cat scratch disease in an otherwise healthy person, inflammation or swelling occurs a week to two weeks after the original injury. Often is the first symptom.

Very often the lymph node that drains that area will also become swollen. So if someone is scratched on the hand the lymph node on their armpit will become swollen, usually to the size of an almond. It may be tender and very often there is fever and malaise (just feeling rotten).

Some people get infected beyond the local wound and the draining lymph node and may have multiple lymph nodes in different parts of the body become enlarged. Some people develop respiratory symptoms and urinary symptoms. But for the most part it is a fatiguing, fever-producing illness that can last for several weeks or several months, and it's variable how much it responds to antibiotics. If antibiotics are given early in the course of the disease they can be helpful, but that is not predictable. Some cases tend to be more resistant than others.

The majority of people who are healthy to start with eventually recover. Cat scratch disease is potentially lethal in people who have an immune deffencicy, especially those with AIDS, those who are taking chemotherapy treatments or transplant patients.

Leonard Marcus, M.D., D.V.M., is a member of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene

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