Identifying and Treating Cat Scratch Fever / Disease

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Cat Scratch Fever isn’t just a song by Ted Nugent, it’s a real and legitimate issue also known as Cat Scratch Disease, and it can cause serious health problems. Or, in very scientific terms, you can call this disease lymphoreticulosis. Try saying that, five times fast! People will contract it from cats that are infected with a bacteria called Bartonella henselae. Did you know that almost fully half of cats carry this bacteria in their blood? Since this bacteria is blood-borne, it means that there will be no outward symptoms from a cat. That means that you should check out any scratch that you receive from a cat, because it can come down to pure chance.

So you’re wondering if you contracted this disease from a cat scratch? I’ll go through symptoms, how to properly diagnose the issue, and then I will discuss what you can do to treat the issue. Finally, I’ll discuss how to prevent getting the disease, and I’ll post a few cat scratch fever pictures for identification purposes.

How do you know if you have cat scratch fever? First of all, take a look at the area where you were scratched by a cat that you believe was infected. Are there any very red areas that happen to be accompanied by blisters, bumps or pus? The second thing to check for is to see if you have swollen lymph nodes near the site of the bite/scratch. These will appear on your neck, but only on the side where you were bitten. You may also have felt some of the side effects I mention below:

Preliminary Side Effects
-Decreased appetite
-Aches and pains
-General discomfort
-Swollen Lymph Nodes on side near bite scratch

If you don’t particularly sense any of those, you should most likely be fine. The reason why I say this is because you can develop more serious conditions based off of the bite or scratch, and these begin to manifest after a month or so. If you still don’t get anything after about two or more weeks, you were not infected.

Image of infected scratch on face: 
Image showing woman with infected cat scratch on face


More Side Effects
-Abdominal Pain
-Lower Back Pain

Note that in the majority of cases, most of these symptoms are cured by antibodies in your body in a month or less. There are also some conditions that are rare, but potentially life-threatening in nature. If you have felt any of these symptoms, please don’t delay after the month has passed - get yourself checked out immediately! You can’t take a chance or risk like this.

Serious But Rare Conditions
-Endocarditis (inflammation of cells in the heart. This can be life-threatening.)
-Encephalopathy (disorder or disease in the brain. Can be a permanent injury.)
-Eye Damage or Loss

As I mentioned before, there is no real way to tell physically if a cat has the bacteria that causes the disease.

Cat Scratch Treatment
First and foremost, I recommend going to your doctor if you were scratched by a cat that recently (or even in the past) had been bitten by fleas. Although the disease resolves itself after a month or so, you may not want to take chances. Most people with a strong or normal immune system should be fine, but if you have a weaker system, talk to a medical professional. A doctor may be able to prescribe you something.

From my research, it can be hard to find out if you do have the bacteria, and it may take several weeks for blood tests to determine for sure the cause. Here's an image of what they might find:

Image showing bacteria magnified for inspection

Generally, most treatments involve doxycycline because the bacteria from the cat scratch can infect your Central Nervous System, eyes, and brain. If you are pregnant, you will most likely be given Azithromycin instead as there can be some side effects from doxycycline. I personally do not recommend taking any fluoroquinolones such as ciprofloxacin, as they can have extremely negative side effects. 

Note: If you have a weakened immune system or you have HIV/AIDS, do not hesitate to go to your doctor. Only those with properly functioning immune systems will be able to process and fight off the bacteria.

How To Prevent Cat Scratch Disease
Did you know that cats are most often transferred this potentially dangerous Bartonella henselae bacteria through flea saliva or flea feces? Thus, having a proper flea control regimen can help protect not just your cat from fleas, but yourself and your family. A particularly effective flea regimen can be accomplished by habitually washing your pet’s bedding. By administering Nitenpyram to your cat, you will help kill any adult fleas that are clinging to your cat. You can purchase a cat scratch disease prevention product here:

Note: this may only help if your cat isn't already infected. Your cat could also potentially receive the bacteria from ticks or chiggers.

I hope this helped you! Remember - most of the time, your body will be able to take care of the disease without the use of antibiotics. However, if a month passes and you are still suffering from the effects, I would recommend reaching out to a doctor. Otherwise, stay vigilant, and watch out for fleas, ticks, and chiggers that can transmit the disease. 


These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Image courtesy of Lindsey Turner. Labeled for reuse. Titled "Claws".

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