In the case of cat scratch disease, which is caused by bacteria, the pathogen enters the human organism mainly via scratch injuries of the cat. The cats themselves either do not get sick at all or only slightly.
What is cat scratch disease?
In poor health or a weakened immune system, for example as part of an HIV infection or AIDS disease, the normally harmless cat scratch disease can result in blood poisoning, meningitis or heart valve inflammation. See AbbreviationFinder for abbreviations related to Cat Scratch Disease.
Cat scratch disease is a common infectious disease in which the local lymph nodes become inflamed. Fever, body aches and headaches can also occur. Cat scratch disease, which is transmitted from infected cats to humans through scratches or bites, is usually harmless. The causative agents include the bacteria Bartonella henselae and Bartonella clarridgeiae.
It is assumed that the cat can also be infected via the flea infestation, although the assumption has not been proven. According to studies, about every tenth cat carries the bacteria. The disease is not transmitted from person to person, only from cat to person. Especially people with a weakened immune system are more severely and more frequently affected by cat scratch disease.
In principle, cat scratch disease can affect anyone, but cat owners are particularly at risk due to the transmission route. Since young animals in particular are contagious, cat scratch disease is more common in households with very young cats, but the disease can also be transmitted by older animals. Most people affected by the cat disease are up to 21 years old or still children.
The reason for this is that children often have close contact with pets and, on the other hand, do not yet have a fully developed immune system. But adults with a weakened immune system are also more likely to get cat scratch disease. They also often show a more severe course. The pathogen reaches a cat’s claws via various routes: When the animal licks its paws, the bacteria contained in the saliva and blood get to the claws.
Another possibility is when fleas settle down and suck the cat’s blood. They are excreted with the feces of the fleas and are found in the fur. Since the puncture site is itchy, the cat scratches and the feces of the fleas get under the claws. If the cat licks an area of human skin that has previously been scratched or damaged, the pathogen can be transmitted. Since the flea also bites people, direct transmission is also possible, although this is far less common.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
The initial symptoms of cat scratch disease can appear in as little as two to three days, but it can take as long as two months. Therefore, after such a long time, the cat bite is often no longer suspected as a trigger. Possible symptoms include a scratch or bite from the cat, although these may have healed.
Red pustules or papules in the area of the wound as well as swollen and inflamed, sometimes painful, lymph nodes in the armpits or neck are also signs of a disease. Any side effects can be flu-like symptoms, such as fever, headache, body aches, sore throat and stomach ache, chills, nausea and vomiting.
In poor health or a weakened immune system, for example as part of an HIV infection or AIDS disease, the normally harmless cat scratch disease can result in blood poisoning, meningitis or heart valve inflammation. Caution is therefore required in the case of people with poor health or underlying diseases.
Diagnosis & course of disease
Since the symptoms of cat scratch disease are often very different and can also occur with other diseases, the doctor needs to know how the disease is developing. Of course, the question of whether there are cats in the household is also crucial. A blood test is also carried out. When the body comes into contact with the pathogen, it forms specific antibodies against the bacterium, which can be detected in the blood.
The pathogen can also be cultivated using a blood sample, which takes a few weeks. A clear result is then possible. If the diagnosis is difficult, tissue can also be taken from a swollen lymph node in order to determine the disease with certainty. Cat scratch disease is usually harmless.
Complications only rarely occur, for example when the bacteria infect the heart, bones or lungs and cause inflammation there. If the pathogens multiply too much in the blood, this can lead to blood poisoning and anemia, which is life-threatening and must be treated in a hospital intensive care unit.
In most cases, cat scratch disease is not diagnosed until very late. This disease can also show the first symptoms only after a few months, so that treatment is delayed in most cases. As a rule, those affected primarily suffer from pain caused by the bite or scratching of the cat.
Papules and pustules form on the body. The affected regions may swell and be painful. It is not uncommon for those affected to continue to suffer from fever and exhaustion. Symptoms similar to common flu also appear. In the worst case, however, it leads to blood poisoning and thus to inflammation of the heart or brain. Patients also suffer from nausea, vomiting and chills.
The everyday life of the affected person is restricted and there is a reduction in resilience. Cat scratch disease is treated with antibiotics. There are no further complications. However, these can occur when the patient is already suffering from a weakened immune system. Life expectancy can also be reduced if necessary.
When should you go to the doctor?
If people who are in direct contact with cats show any health changes, they should consult a doctor. A doctor is required for sudden changes in the skin’s appearance, such as redness and the formation of poplars or pustules. If the first abnormalities appear a few days after contact with cats, a doctor’s visit is also necessary. If pain occurs, fever or increased body temperature and swelling of the body occurs, a doctor should be consulted.
If lymph nodes in the neck or armpits increase in size and sensitivity, this is considered a sign of illness that should be investigated. In the case of flu-like symptoms such as repeated vomiting, nausea or dizziness, a medical examination is necessary to clarify the cause. Any chills, abdominal pain, digestive problems, limb discomfort, aching bones or head should be seen by a doctor.
If existing symptoms spread or increase in intensity, a doctor’s visit is required. Exhaustion, tiredness, a drop in the usual performance and a feeling of illness must be examined by a doctor. Symptoms of cat scratch disease often appear after a bite or scratch on the skin. In addition to the signs described, a visit to the doctor is necessary if the wound is not healing properly.
Treatment & Therapy
Since cat scratch disease is a bacterial infection, if it is complicated or severe, it can be treated well with antibiotics. This is usually taken for four weeks. If the illness is accompanied by flu-like symptoms, antipyretics or painkillers can also be prescribed.
In people with a strong immune system and no history of illness, however, no medication is usually necessary because the symptoms appear only mildly in these people and subside on their own.
Outlook & Forecast
Healthy adults usually only experience mild flu-like symptoms in the form of headaches and body aches or a slight fever, which do not require medical treatment. Those affected primarily suspect the presence of a mild flu-like infection and avoid visiting a doctor. They use warm baths, cold wraps, ginger tea or rubbing rubbing with rubbing alcohol as home remedies to alleviate the symptoms. An intact immune system can usually fight an infection with the bacterial pathogens of cat scratch disease itself.
A medical professional must be contacted whenever the fever rises or there is a worsening of existing symptoms. The same applies to a locally occurring, inflammatory reaction after a scratch or bite injury from a cat.
In the case of the elderly, children or chronically ill people, on the other hand, the immune system is not fully functional and is usually not able to fight the infection itself. In order not to waste time, it is necessary to immediately consult a doctor and begin drug treatment.
Especially with children, it is important to teach them certain rules of conduct when dealing with cats to prevent them from getting sick again. If there are open wounds, you should stay away from the cat until the first aid with a plaster and never let the cat lick the wound.
As a preventive measure, after injuries caused by cats, the wounds should always be cleaned and disinfected thoroughly. After contact, it is recommended to wash hands thoroughly with soap and water. The cats should also be regularly and reliably freed from fleas. Vaccination is currently not available. In the case of an acute underlying illness, it can make sense to hand over the cat temporarily if possible.
Cat scratch disease is treated acutely. Scheduled follow-up examinations are not to be found in everyday practice. After a one-time illness, the doctor treating you points out preventive measures that are intended to prevent the recurrence of the typical symptoms. However, the patient is responsible for this. Fighting fleas in cats is of fundamental importance. Sufficient hygiene after contact with pets is also imperative.
Cat scratch disease causes complications in certain people. The risk group includes people with a weakened immune system. In the worst case, life-threatening blood poisoning occurs. Affected patients should completely avoid contact with pets because of the danger. However, this is not controlled by the attending physician. He communicates this after an initial diagnosis. The patient is responsible for implementation.
There is no reason for long-term treatment, which can be part of the aftercare. Spontaneous healing usually occurs. However, the patient can become infected again at any time. A blood analysis allows a clear diagnosis. If the course is longer, an antibiotic promises rapid relief. Pet owners must consistently comply with the preventive measures described. This reduces the risk of infection. The instruction regarding suitable preventive measures in everyday life replaces a scheduled follow-up examination.
You can do that yourself
Cat disease is a bacterial infection that has symptoms not unlike those of a mild flu. In healthy adults with an intact immune system, no medical treatment is usually required. In most cases, those affected are not even aware that they have not simply caught a cold. Anyone who has been injured by a cat and fears that they have contracted the cat disease can wait and see. Minor side effects such as headaches and body aches or a slight fever can also be treated with over-the-counter medication without hesitation. However, a doctor should always be consulted if the symptoms worsen, especially if a high fever develops or the scratch or bite becomes infected.
Caution should also be exercised with children and the elderly, since the immune system of these groups of people is not yet or no longer fully functional. If a cat lives in the house and these people show signs of the cat disease, you should not experiment with self-help measures, but consult a doctor immediately. The same applies to people whose immune system is weakened due to an illness.
The pathogens are also found in the cat’s saliva. To reduce the risk of infection, children should learn that allowing the pet to lick scraped knees or other minor injuries can make them sick.