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What Is Cat Scratch Fever? Cases Surge in the Late Summer — Here’s How to Prevent It


If you’re a cat owner, you probably know that a few scratches every now and then are inevitable. Our furry friends love to play and their claws snag on everything, from upholstery to clothes to skin (ouch). However, those scratches can actually have a deadly effect in the form of cat scratch fever.

According to the CDC, cat scratch fever, or cat scratch disease, is a bacterial infection spread by cats. (The bacterium that causes it is called Bartonella henselae.) It spreads through bites or scratches, or if a feline licks a human’s open wound.

How do cats get the bacteria that causes it?

Cats can pick up Bartonella henselae from flea bites or flea dirt. If a cat scratches or bites at fleas, the bacteria can spread to the mouth, teeth, and claws. In addition, cats may get infected after fighting with an infected cat.

How do you know if you have cat scratch fever?

Initially, it’s not easy to tell if you are infected. It takes between three and 14 days for a mild infection to start forming at the site of a scratch or bite — which will look swollen and red. You may also see round, raised bumps that could contain pus.

From there, you might develop the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Headache
  • Lack of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Swollen, tender, or painful lymph nodes near the infection site

If you have any of these symptoms, contact your doctor immediately. It’s not easy for doctors to detect cat scratch fever, but if you think it could be what’s causing your symptoms, your doctor is more likely to test you for Bartonella henselae.

Why is this important now?

In a study published in 2016, the CDC found that cases of cat scratch fever rose in January and between August and November. While researchers aren’t exactly sure why this is the case, they suspect that cats are often adopted during the holiday season. More cats in homes translates to a higher chance of humans getting the disease.

In addition, cats mate during the spring and summer, and may come in contact with infected cats during this time. Fleas are also more prevalent in the summer months, and hotter weather could cause an even greater rise in fleas than normal this year.

How can you prevent cat scratch disease?

Every week, check your cat for signs of fleas and open wounds. If you suspect fleas, take your furry friend to the vet.

And if your cat scratches or bites you, immediately wash the wound in hot, soapy water — regardless of whether you think your cat is infected or not. Additionally, don’t let your pet lick any of your open wounds.

Clip your feline’s nails frequently as well, and deter scratching or biting with the right toys and training. Even older cats can learn not to hurt you, and the extra training will be worth it in the long run. Follow these tips and you’ll be able to enjoy the company of your sweet kitty without worry.

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