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Bartonella: Cat Scratch Fever

Reviewed by Dr. Alexis Seguin, DVM, MS, DACVIM on Tuesday, August 18, 2015
Posted January 13, 2015 in Cat Diseases & Conditions A-Z

Kitten playing with person's hand

If you’ve never heard of bartonella, you are not alone. Bartonella is a genus of bacteria that cause disease in people and animals. While you may not have heard of bartonella, you may be familiar with at least one of the diseases caused by this bacterium: Cat Scratch Disease. Cat Scratch Disease is caused by the bacterium Bartonella henselae. According to the CDC, Cat Scratch Disease affects 9.3 per 100,000 people per year in the US (approximately 29,000 annually based on our population of 316 million), most frequently children younger than 15 years of age. Besides Cat Scratch Disease, other bartonella species are responsible for Trench Fever, Bacillary Angiomatosis and Carrion’s Disease in people.
How is Cat Scratch Disease transmitted?
According to the CDC, 41% of healthy cats harbor Bartonella henselae. Bartonella henselae is also more common in young cats and strays. Cats typically become infected when bitten by an infected flea. Though less common, cats can also become infected when exposed to infected blood, such as from a blood transfusion or during a cat fight. People get Cat Scratch Disease when scratched or bitten by an infected cat, typically a kitten.
Signs of Cat Scratch Disease
Cats infected with Bartonella henselae are typically asymptomatic, meaning they do not appear sick. The signs and symptoms of Cat Scratch Disease in humans vary widely. Many people show no symptoms at all while others may have fever; malaise; chills and enlarged, painful lymph nodes.
Diagnosis of Cat Scratch Disease
If a cat or person is bitten or scratched by a cat and develops some of the common symptoms of Cat Scratch Disease, the doctor may recommend serologic testing to determine if there was exposure to Bartonella henselae.

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Ruth has more than 15 years of experience in the veterinary industry as a companion animal veterinarian in private practice. Along with being a writer and media personality, she is also a founding member of IDEXX’s Pet Health Network team.