What is Cat Scratch Fever and How Can You Avoid Being Infected?

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Cat Scratch Fever is more than just a cheesy rock song from the ’70s, it’s a potentially serious bacterial infection that humans can contract if they are bitten or scratched by an infected cat – and this includes your own furry little gal.

The cat becomes infected through fleas that carry a common bacterium known as Bartonella henselae.  While your vet can test to see if kitty is infected, cats tend to carry the bacteria for a short period of time making treatment unnecessary. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that up to 40 percent of felines carry the bacteria at some time in their lives but go undetected because it doesn’t make them sick.

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Not the case for humans however, where common symptoms can include:

  • blistering, bumps or swollen lymph nodes near the bite or scratch
  • fatigue and/or headaches
  • low-grade fever

While formally diagnosing Cat Scratch Fever from the above symptoms is difficult, your family doctor can perform a series of tests including blood-work that will identify the Bartonella henselae bacteria.

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Typically a positive diagnosis is not considered extremely serious and will not require treatment however there are exceptions. If the symptoms are more severe or the infected person has a compromised immune system, antibiotics will need to be prescribed to safeguard against potentially very serious complications that can include brain or vision damage.

So how do you avoid getting scratched and chomped on by Miss Kitty?  For those of us who own cats, we know that when play happens, so do scratches.  Your best bet is to wash your hands after roughhousing with your feline (even spit can carry the bacteria), keep her indoors and administer anti-flea medication to minimize the risk.


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