Ahem! News Media: Here’s What You Really Need to Know about Cat Scratch Disease

The CDC released a report this week analyzing Cat Scratch Disease (CSD) in the U.S. from 2005-2013. You’ve been waiting patiently, we know.

Normally this report wouldn’t be overly interesting. The study found incidence of CSD dropped a bit over time while rates of hospitalization increased a bit (3.5{cc651acb8fd21d18461bab90e3951e117ad976e0f5f2bec6fa2ec763fee94208} to 4.2{cc651acb8fd21d18461bab90e3951e117ad976e0f5f2bec6fa2ec763fee94208}).

What is notable is how some news outlets interpreted the report and sensationalized the information with wild, attention-grabbing headlines.

Headlines ranged from factual, “CDC Releases Cat-Scratch Disease Study” to the laughable (but great clickbait) “Cuddling with Kittens Brings Joy, also Maybe Death”.

A screenshot of a Google search on the terms “Cat Scratch Disease” on September 22, 2016 turned up these examples.

google search results for cat scratch disease

It even made Facebook’s Trending Topics list.

facebook trending topics for cat scratch disease

As veterinary professionals, we felt compelled to call out “time out” in terms of how the popular press is portraying this issue.

What You Need to Know about Cat Scratch Disease

You do NOT have to get rid of your cat and you do NOT have to declaw your cat.

While this is a real disease, the likelihood of it happening to you is small. The average incidence per year was 4.5 out of 100,000 for being diagnosed as an outpatient. For being hospitalized for CSD, the incidence was even lower at .19 out of 100,000.

While theoretically possible, the stats are in your favor that you will not die from a cat scratch.

young boy and kittenYoung kids or anyone with a compromised immune system are at higher risk for infection. Southern states also have higher rates of CSD.

Not all cats harbor the bacteria, Bartonella henselae, that cause this disease. Stats link these bacteria more often with kittens or cats who have fleas.

Protection can be as simple as good hand washing. Good hygiene is the best and easiest way to keep any scratches or bites from becoming infected.

Another prevention tip, keep your cat’s nails trimmed. Laughing? We can show you how here. And if you bring your cat in to us, we will trim them for free.

The only difference between Cat Scratch Disease and Cat Scratch Fever is a song. (It’s by Ted Nugent. You’re welcome.)

This illness can occur from more than just a cat scratch. Cat bites or even your cat licking an open wound/scab on your body can transmit the infection.

boy and catBottomline: Take extra care if you have a kitten, cat with fleas, you are a child, person of advanced age, or are immune compromised. Be careful, enjoy life, wash hands often, and enjoy your cat.

For the rest of us, you should also be careful, enjoy your life, your cat, and wash your hands often!

How Do We Get Cat Scratch Disease?

This disease comes from the bacteria Bartonella henselae.

Fleas are actually the main culprit in Cat Scratch Disease. Fleas transmit these bacteria when they bite our pets (or other mammals).

Cats happen to be the primary carriers of these bacteria, hence the name. Ironically, while cats themselves have Bartonella henselae in their system, they don’t often get sick from it.

Dogs can also carry and transmit Bartonella henselae, however, it is less likely to occur.

Side Note for Science Geeks

There are many species of Bartonella and most are transmitted by insects or parasites (e.g., fleas, lice, sandflies, mosquito) when they bite a mammal (e.g., cat, dog, human).

Dogs, coyotes, rodents and even humans can carry some Bartonella species. Several of these bacteria cause disease in humans and others are less harmful. This technical article pretty much sums the science up.

Cat Scratch Disease Symptoms

Physical signs don’t appear right away. It may take several days to a week or two.

You may see redness or a raised lesion, perhaps with pus, around the injured area. A nearby lymph node may also be swollen and tender. Some may experience fever, fatigue, and loss of appetite.

This article has a good overview of what to look for.

What To Do If You Are Scratched

Always check with your doctor first, but most cases of Cat Scratch Disease resolve on their own or with minimal supportive care. In rare cases, the bacteria responsible can lead to other more significant issues that do require more involved medical care.

Wash the area thoroughly with soap and warm water. Keep the area clean and don’t let your cat lick that area.

Keep an eye on the spot and if you notice redness, a round lesion nearby, feel swollen lymph nodes, or start a fever head to your doctor.