Cat-scratch fever (otherwise known as cat-scratch disease) is an infection caused by a type of bacteria carried in cat saliva. You can get cat-scratch disease from a cat bite or scratch. You can get the infection after a cat scratches you if the cat's paws have the bacteria on them. (A cat can get the bacteria on its paws when it licks itself.)
With a cat bite, the cat can pass the bacteria to you in its saliva. You can also get the bacteria in your eyes if you pet a cat that has the bacteria on its fur and then rub your eyes. Many people who get cat-scratch disease do not remember being scratched or bitten by a cat.
Cat-scratch disease is not a severe illness in people who are healthy. But it can be a problem in people who have weak immune systems.
A sore or blister may develop where a cat has bitten or scratched you. It may take 3 to 10 days for the sore or blister to appear after the bite or scratch. The sore or blister may take a long time to heal.
An infection of the lymph nodes (also called lymph glands) also develops, most often in the glands that are near the place where you got the cat scratch or cat bite. For example, if the infection is from a cat scratch on your arm, the glands in your armpit may become tender and swollen. The lymph nodes may swell to an inch or more in size. You may also run a low-grade fever
Call your family doctor if you notice any of the following problems:
• A cat scratch or bite that does not heal in the usual length of time.
• An area of redness around a cat scratch or bite that continues to get bigger for more than 2 days after the injury.
• Fever that lasts for several days after a cat scratch or bite.
• Painful and swollen lymph nodes for more than 2 or 3 weeks.
• Bone or joint pain, abdominal pain (without fever, vomiting or diarrhoea) or an unusual degree of tiredness for more than 2 or 3 weeks.
In most people, cat-scratch disease clears up without treatment. However, antibiotics may be needed when infected lymph nodes stay painful and swollen for more than 2 or 3 months.
© Forrest Hill Vets (2000) Ltd