Cat Scratch Disease

What is cat-scratch disease?

Cat-scratch disease (CSD) is caused by a bacteria (germ) called Bartonella henselae that is in a cat's mouth. You can get CSD by being scratched, licked, or bitten by an infected cat. The germs usually spread after the cat licks its paws then scratches or bites human skin. CSD can also be spread if you rub your eyes after you hold an infected cat.

What are the signs and symptoms of cat-scratch disease?

You may see painless blisters or bumps along your wound 3 to 10 days after you have been bitten or scratched. Lymph nodes near the wound may become red, swollen, and painful 1 to 3 weeks later. These often include lymph nodes in your neck, armpit, and groin. You may also have loss of appetite, rash, sore throat, headache, fever, and muscle, joint, or stomach pain.

How is cat-scratch disease diagnosed?

Your caregiver will ask about your symptoms and examine the injured area. He may ask about your medical history. Your caregiver will need to know if you have had any contact with a cat. He will look at the affected area to check for other problems. You may also have any of the following tests:

  • Blood tests: These tests will look for the bacteria that causes CSD or for antibodies against the bacteria. Antibodies are substances that the immune system makes to protect the body from outside organisms.

  • Culture: This test uses samples to grow and identify the germ that is causing your symptoms. Samples may be taken from your wound, blood, or lymph nodes.

  • Biopsy: For a biopsy, a small piece of tissue is taken from the infected area. This sample is then sent to the lab for tests. This helps caregivers learn what kind of infection you have.

  • Imaging tests: Pictures of your bones, tissues, and organs may be taken using different imaging tests. Tests may include x-rays, ultrasound, computed tomography (CT) scan, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Caregivers use the pictures to see if the disease has spread.

How is cat-scratch disease treated?

Cat-scratch disease may go away in 2 to 4 months without treatment. In some cases, you may need one or more of the following:

  • Medicines: Your caregiver may give you antibiotic medicine to fight infection. You may also be given medicine to ease your symptoms, such as fever, pain, and swelling.

  • Drainage: Caregivers may drain the fluid or pus from your lymph nodes with a needle. Caregivers may also drain the pus by making an incision (cut) in the affected area.

  • Surgery: Caregivers may remove all or part of your affected lymph nodes.

How can cat-scratch disease be prevented?

  • Always wash your hands after you handle or pet a cat.

  • Have your cat treated for fleas. Fleas can spread the germ from cat to cat.

  • Do not allow your cat to lick an open wound on your skin.

  • Take care when you play with cats to avoid bites or scratches. Avoid rough play.

  • If you get scratched, licked, or bitten by a cat, wash the area with clean water and soap right away.

What are the risks of cat-scratch disease?

Medicines used to treat CSD may cause nausea or vomiting. You may have an allergic reaction or develop kidney problems with long-term use of strong antibiotics. If left untreated, the infection may spread to your bones, lungs, heart, liver, or brain. People who have decreased ability to fight infection are at a higher risk of problems.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • You have a fever, sore throat, or headache.

  • You notice swelling in your neck, armpit, or groin.

  • You have stomach, muscle, or joint pain.

  • You have a skin rash, itching, or swelling after you take your medicine.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate help?

Seek help immediately or call 911 if:

  • You have severe pain in your stomach, muscles, bones, or joints.

  • You have severe pain in the lymph nodes in your neck, armpit, or groin.

  • You have seizures, headaches, or cannot think clearly.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2013 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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