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Cat scratch fever: Not just rock n' roll

Back in the 1980s, Ted Nugent made cat scratch fever nearly a household name with his song. However, even though this malady (actually called "cat scratch disease") was first discussed in the 1950s, many of us still know little about the actual disease. • For example, if you thought that this was a problem limited to cats and cat owners, think again: It has been linked to cows, dogs, rodents and humans. • Also, if you live in an area where biting flies, fleas, lice and potentially ticks are a problem, then you are at risk for exposure and possible infection from this organism. The good news is that it may be easier than you think to reduce you and your pet's risks for contracting this disease. Dr. Dennis Selig, McClatchy-Tribune Newspapers

What is it?

Cat Scratch Disease Bartonella is a bacterial organism that infects about 20 percent of cats living in the United States.

When a flea bites an infected cat, it ingests blood as well as the Bartonella bacteria. When the flea defecates, these bacterial organisms are in the flea feces. When a cat scratches or grooms itself, the flea feces containing the bacteria get lodged around the claw or in the mouth of the cat. If this cat then scratches a person or another cat with this dirty claw, or bites someone with its contaminated mouth, the bacteria can be transmitted.

Depending on the strength of the immune system of the recipient of the cat scratch or bite, the individual may have no symptoms or may develop flulike symptoms such as fever and muscle aches, enlarged and tender lymph nodes near the scratch, and a pustule or reddening within the scratch about a week or so later.

In people with a weakened immune system, more serious conditions, such as heart valve infection, arthritis and encephalitis, can result. More than 22,000 human cases are reported annually, 10 percent of these requiring hospitalization.

Cats in the Southern states have a much higher infection rate because of higher heat and humidity where fleas thrive.

In cats, the bacteria can cause a long list of problems, including, oral, respiratory, ocular, intestinal diseases and skin infections. No information is available about the incidence of these bacteria in dogs.


The American Association of Feline Practitioners' recommendations for decreasing the likelihood of pets becoming infected with Bartonella:

• Use a flea-control program year-round.

• Keep cats indoors to minimize hunting and exposure to fleas.

• Trim cats' claws regularly to help reduce the possible transmission of this bacterium.


Diagnosing bartonellosis in pets isn't simple: There is no single test that can prove that your pet does or doesn't have the disease. Consequently, your pet's doctor may use a combination of data, such as a blood test and the response to therapy, as a means of determining if a pet has this disease.

Treatment is a three-week course of the antibiotic Azithromycin; there is 83 percent success rate for curing infected cats.

Cat scratch fever: Not just rock n' roll 03/02/09 [Last modified: Monday, March 2, 2009 4:13pm]
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