Cat Scratch Disease, also known as Cat Scratch Fever, is found in more locations than just a Ted Nugent album. This disease, first isolated in 1992, is caused by a bacteria called Bartonella henselae and affects roughly 6.6 in every 100,000 children in the United States. It's mostly benign (harmless), and in some cases goes unnoticed. Every now and then, though, a mother may see this in her child and become concerned:
The bacteria is transmitted to cats, typically kittens, by fleas. When a child is scratched by the cat, or in some cases pets the cat and then rubs his or her eye, the bacteria enters their bloodstream.
In 2-3 weeks, the child will develop lymphadenopathy, or the enlargement of the lymph nodes. The most common location of the lymphadenopathy is in the neck (33% of cases), followed by the axilla (underarm, 27%) and inguinal (groin, 18%). The child will also develop the characteristic fever and may complain of a sore throat.
In children with weak immune systems (immunocompromised), the disease may become disseminated (spread throughout the body) and cause infection of the bone (osteomyelitis), brain (encephalitis, resulting in seizures) and eye (oculoglandular conjunctivitis). In children with heart valve problems, this disease may cause endocarditis (infection of heart valve). For this reason, the CDC recommends that these children and adults avoid playing with cats or kittens, especially those with fleas.
Since the disease goes away on its own, a doctor will only need to prescribe pain medication for the painful lymph nodes. There is limited evidence that antibiotics are helpful in treating Cat Scratch Fever, so put on an old record and let Ted do all of the work.
- Cases in adults are not uncommon. 80% of patients with cat-scratch disease are < 21 years old
- Cases of dogs, monkeys, porcupine quills and thorns have been reported
- The disease is not contagious. There are no reports of person-to-person transmission
- Laboratory diagnosis is difficult, since the organism can be difficult to see. Currently, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) or Warthin-Starry Stain is used
- Differential diagnosis of chronic lymphadenopathy includes L. venereum, mycobacteria, tularemia, brucellosis. mononucleosis, syphilis, toxoplasmosis, systemic fungal infections, sarcoidosis, lymphoma, connective tissue disease and kawasaki disease
Cat Scratch Disease. In DynaMed [database online]. EBSCO Information Services.
Updated 2012 Oct 25. Accessed May 10, 2014.