(AscendHealthy.com) – You might have heard of cat scratch fever before — but is it real? It sounds like something out of fiction or old wives’ tales: a cat scratches you, you get sick, and the consequences could be fatal. Unfortunately, in this case, there’s truth to the legend: cat scratch fever can kill you, especially if you’re near some playful kittens or a serious flea infestation, as that increases the likelihood of exposure.
What Is Cat Scratch Fever?
Cat scratch fever itself develops as a result of cat scratch disease, known among medical professionals as CSD. This is a bacterial infection that happens when a cat that is infected bites or scratches a person hard enough for their skin to break. It can also occur if the infected cat licks the open wound of a human. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cat scratch disease is listed as a pathogenic bacteria.
The bacteria itself is called Bartonella henselae, and it’s responsible for infection if you get bit. If you are bit or scratched by an infected cat, your chances of developing infection are around 40 percent.
Kittens have a greater chance of carrying this bacteria and adult cats who have it aren’t symptomatic. The bacteria lives in fleas, which cats accrue via dirt and bites. When cats become infected, the bacteria passes on to them, and they in turn can infect humans and other mammals.
Symptoms of Cat Scratch Disease
The following symptoms are warning signs that you may have contracted cat scratch disease, in addition to the visible, skin-breaking bite or scratch from a cat.
- Fever: You may start to experience extreme cold or hot spells even though the temperature should mean you’re comfortable.
- Exhaustion and fatigue: You’re sleeping more than 10 hours per day and feel tired when you’re awake.
- Headache: Aching or throbbing sensation in your head.
- Pustule: Near the scratch site, you’ll develop a pustule, or a painful, tender, swollen bump.
- You’re more likely to get CSD in the winter or fall, and people with weak immune systems as well as children or the elderly are more likely to fall victim to it.
If a cat is symptomatic, they’ll have a fever lasting for two or three days. If you observe this, make sure to get them to a veterinarian immediately, and know that dogs and other domestic animals are able to get CSD as it’s carried by a cat in their saliva.
What Should You Do If You Get Cat Scratch Disease?
If you get cat scratch disease, you have to worry about two main things: bacillary angiomatosis, which are lesions with scaly areas on your skin. If it gets worse, it can affect your internal organs. The second problem is Parinaud’s oculograndular syndrome, or a much more terrible version of pink eye that can result in pain and complications in your ear and eye. Complications are more likely for those with weakened immune systems.
If you’re bitten, wash the affected area with soap and running water for over thirty seconds. If you’re able, apply alcohol and bandages, then schedule an appointment with a doctor immediately. If possible, head to urgent care. A doctor may take blood samples and give you antibiotics and other medications to treat your symptoms.
Everyone has a vested interest in preventing cat scratch fever and cat scratch disease. To do so, make sure you keep your cat indoors — declawing isn’t necessary or helpful for the cat. Standard flea and tick prevention, as recommended by your veterinarian, is also helpful, and avoid contact with unfamiliar, outdoor, and stray cats.
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