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Ask A Vet: Should I Be Worried About Cat Scratch Fever?

cat-scratch

If you read the news, you might just decide that life is a very threatening endeavor. Sometimes it is wise to dig a little deeper than just the headline though. An article from the CDC (Center for Disease Control) has gotten some attention in the pet news of late. If you just glance at the headline, it seems to suggest that the CDC is recommending that we not interact closely with our cats because of the frightening risk of cat scratch fever.

The impetus for the recent buzz is a retrospective study looking at cases of cat scratch fever over an 8 year time period (2005-2013). Knowing that knowledge is power, the researchers wanted to gain insight into this problem in order to try to prevent it. Cat scratch fever is caused by a bacterium named Bartonella henselae and the source is the cat flea.

Even though it is frightening that humans can become sick because of a scratch or bite from a pet cat, the study found that a lower incidence of inpatient admissions (those sick enough to be hospitalized) than earlier studies and when one considers that the number of cat owning households has increased in this country to an all time high, it is a good thing that numbers are decreasing. Also our medical ability to diagnosis Bartonella has improved, which means we would be more likely to accurately diagnose it.  With improved diagnostic accuracy, we would expect to see a spike in reported cases, but we did not see an alarming increase in this study.

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The important points to note are:

Cat scratch fever is not a new epidemic. Nationwide Incidence of less 5 people per 100,000 makes this an uncommon diagnosis (and even fewer were sick enough to be hospitalized). Those most commonly affected were children between the ages of 5 and 9 and people with immune compromise.
The carrier is a cat flea, so cats on comprehensive flea control are less likely to be at risk or to be a risk to you and your family. Your veterinarian is the best source for information about fleas and the strongest products to safely protect your cat.
Wash your hands after handling cats, especially those that hunt outside. Bartonella can make your cat sick too, so any cat that is not acting well should be evaluated by a vet.

Being terrified of your cat is overkill, but be smart and protect yourself and your family (2 legged and 4) by doing all you can to be proactive about this and other diseases and make sure you include your veterinarian in all your healthcare decisions regarding your cat.

https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/22/10/16-0115_article#r2

 

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