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Cat Scratch Disease

What is cat-scratch disease?

Cat-scratch disease (CSD) is caused by a bacteria that lives 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 CSD?

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 CSD diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and examine the injured area. Tell him if you had any contact with a cat. You may need any of the following tests:

  • Blood tests may show which bacteria is causing your infection.

  • A sample of tissue or fluid from your wound or lymph node may show which bacteria is causing your infection.

  • An x-ray, ultrasound, CT, or MRI may show if the infection has spread. You may be given contrast liquid to help the infection show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.

How is CSD 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 help treat bacterial infection or decrease pain, fever, and swelling.

  • Incision and drainage may be needed to drain fluid or pus from your lymph nodes.

  • Surgery may be needed to remove all or part of your affected lymph nodes.

How can CSD 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.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • 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 care or call 911?

  • 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.

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