Cat scratch disease is a bacterial disease that causes swelling of the Lymph Nodes, and is normally caused by a cat scratch, bite or licking. The bacterium is called Bartonella and is found in all parts of the world. Most of you who have cats do not realize the seriousness of a scratch from your cat. It appears that children are diagnosed more often in the colder weather, probably due to playing more often with their cats.
Bartonella is spread through fleas between cats though there is no evidence that fleas can transmit the bacteria to humans. The bacterium lives in the cat’s saliva and does not affect their health otherwise. They can carry the bacteria for months with no signs or symptoms of feeling ill.
After being scratched or bitten, there may be no real physical signs other than a little redness and blistering. The blisters or bumps are called inoculation lesions, which are most commonly found on the arms, hands, head, or scalp and are generally not painful. Within a couple of weeks, the area, which affects the lymph nodes, may become swollen and tender. The lymph nodes affected the most are under the arms, neck, leg and groin area. The skin over these swollen lymph nodes can become warm, red, and occasionally drain pus. In most kids, swollen lymph nodes are the main symptom of the disease and the illness often is mild.
Frequently, the cat scratch disease clears up on its own, unless it is infected. Taking an over-the-counter pain reliever such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen, in addition to applying heat compresses to the affected area can help relieve pain and discomfort. Antibiotics effective against bacteria may be necessary if an infected lymph node stays painful and swollen for more than 2 or 3 months, or if the bones, liver or other organs are infected. Antibiotics may also help if you have a fever. Sometimes the lymph nodes may get large at which time it may be necessary to drain the node in order to relieve some of the pain.
It may seem impossible to avoid this disease if you own a cat. You certainly cannot get rid of your cat! Avoiding confrontational situations, of course, is your best bet. Do not tease or provoke your cat. Most bites and scratches are because of being provoked. However it is not always the case, not all cats bite and scratch. During playtime, accidents can happen as well. Washing hands after handling your cat, especially if you have an open wound, can help to fend off infection. Be sure your cat and your home is free from fleas. Cats seem to transmit this infection for only a few weeks. However, young cats are more likely to carry the bacteria than older cats. Households with kittens have higher rates of infection, and if the kitten has fleas, it is even higher.
Cats do not need to be treated for this disease as they merely carry the bacteria, causing cat-scratch disease in people. Contact your Vet if you have further concerns about this disease in your cat and the possible effect it could have on the family.