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Children and teens are more likely to catch Catscratch Fever, up to 80% more likely in fact, and this is probably due to the attention or teasing they will often demonstrate with a kitten or cat.

Also known as Catscratch Disease, it is not related to the famous song by Ted Nugent in 1977. Instead, it is subacute regional lymphadenitis, meaning the bacterial infection has affected the lymph nodes.

Are Cats To Blame?

Unfortunately, yes. Catscratch Fever is usually the result of a bite or a scratch from a cat that is carrying the Bartonella henselae bacteria. This bacterium is commonly resident in young cats and kittens, and it can be transferred between cats via fleas. For those cats that don’t have fleas, they fortunately can’t develop the infection from a cat that has the bacteria.

Children and teens are more likely to catch Catscratch Fever, up to 80% more likely in fact, and this is probably due to the attention or teasing they will often demonstrate with a kitten or cat. We have all seen those children that pull the cat’s tail or ears, and seen how the cat responds – usually with teeth or claws or both!

Symptoms of Catscratch Fever

Following a bite or scratch, a red spot that is small and raised can develop at the site. This will develop into a blister filled with fluid, and later becomes a sore. Usually after several days or sometimes months, this will heal without leaving a scar. Many people often think this is an insect bite, as it looks very similar.

Wherever the bite or scratch occurred on the body, the lymph nodes nearby become painful and swollen, especially in the areas of the neck, head and armpit. Medically, this is called regional lymphadenopathy, and these glands can swell up to 12 cm within 2 weeks of the onset of the disease. The time between injury and the development of the disease can be anywhere from 1-8 weeks.

Other symptoms experienced by at least half of those infected include:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Fatigue/malaise
  • Sore throat
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Rash
  • Conjunctivitis (eye infection)

Rarer complications affect roughly 10% and these include:

  • Bacillary angiomatosis – an infection of the blood vessels
  • Parinaud’s oculoglandular syndrome – a lump in the eye and swollen glands near the ear
  • Bacillary splenitis and hepatitis – infection of the spleen and liver
  • Sepsis – bacterial infection through the blood stream
  • Erythema nodosum – shin lumps that are red
  • Bacterial endocarditis – infection of the heart valve
  • Encephalopathy – infection of the brain

Encephalopathy is the least common complication, but is potentially the most severe. It can present with symptoms including seizures and a coma. However, with the right antibiotic treatment, the patient will usually completely recover.

Diagnosing Catscratch Fever

For a diagnosis of Catscratch Fever to be made, there are four criteria, three of which need to be present:

  • Cat contact and a related lesion or scratch
  • Regional lymphadenopathy
  • Biopsy of the lymph node or skin confirmation
  • Positive skin test
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