Definition

Cat scratch fever is a bacterial infection you can get from being scratched or bitten by a cat, kitten, or sometimes a dog. This usually goes away without treatment. But it can become a serious condition that requires care from your doctor.

Causes

The bacteria that cause cat scratch fever are found in fleas. They are passed on to cats through flea bites. They are passed on to humans through a cat scratch or bite.

Risk Factors

The most common risk factor is being bitten or scratched by a cat or kitten.

Symptoms

Swollen Lymph Nodes

Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
  • A crusting sore or blister that forms over the site of a cat scratch or bite
  • Swollen, painful lymph nodes
  • Low fever
  • Flu-like symptoms such as weakness, nausea, chills, loss of appetite, and body aches
  • Some people may develop complications, such as a very high fever or pneumonia. Severe cases have caused infections of the brain (encephalitis), hepatitis, and even death.

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. If you remember that you were bitten or scratched by a cat, your doctor may be able to diagnose the disease based on the fact that you were bitten or scratched, then got painful, swollen lymph nodes. Tests may include a blood test, especially if the diagnosis is not clear from the exam and medical history.

Treatment

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include:

  • Non-prescription pain relievers, such as acetaminophen
  • Antibiotics—Cat-scratch fever usually clears up without treatment. If your doctor feels it is necessary, antibiotics can be prescribed to help prevent worsening infection or the spread of the infection to other parts of the body. This may be used especially if you are very ill or you have a weakened immune system.
  • Lymph node drainage—If a lymph node is very swollen or very painful, your doctor may drain it to help it heal and to relieve pain. To do this, your doctor will put a needle into the swollen node. Fluid inside the node will drain out through the needle.

Prevention

To prevent cat scratch fever, take the following steps:

  • The best prevention against cat scratch disease is to avoid being scratched or bitten by a cat or a dog.
  • If you do get bitten or scratched, immediately wash the area with soap and water.
  • Keep your pets free of fleas.