Bartonella Henselae (Cat Scratch Fever)

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Guidance for Personnel Working with Cats at Texas A&M University-Kingsville

What is cat scratch disease?

Cat scratch disease (CSD) is caused by the bacterium Bartonella henselae. The occurrence of CSD is most strongly associated with owning a kitten (1 year or younger), being licked on the face, scratched, or bitten by a kitten, and owning a kitten with fleas.

How is CSD spread?

It has been suggested that fleas play a role in cat to cat transmission, but not in cat to human transmission. As the name suggests, humans contract CSD after being scratched or (less commonly) bitten by an infected cat or kitten. CSD cannot be transmitted from person to person.

Who is at risk for infection?

The majority of individuals who contract CSD are under the age of 17, and are usually under the age of 12. People with compromised immune systems, such as AIDS and cancer patients, are most at risk and can become most seriously ill if infected with Bordetella.

Is CSD infection serious?

In a small number of cases, almost all involving individuals with compromised immune systems, CSD can cause tonsillitis, encephalitis, hepatitis, pneumonia, and other serious illnesses.

How can I protect myself?

  • Control of flea infestation may reduce the number of insects capable of transmitting B. henselae from cat to cat, and that in turn will reduce the feline reservoir from which humans can become infected.
  • Gloves, shoe covers and long sleeved apparel should be worn at all times when working with cats.
  • People at risk should avoid rough play that may lead to cat scratches. Wash any scratches immediately.
  • If a new cat is brought in, a mature cat rather than a kitten is preferred.

What are the signs of CSD infection?

Typically, a small skin lesion (resembling an insect bite) develops at the site of a cat scratch or a bite, followed within two weeks by swollen lymph nodes and sometimes a fever. The illness is mild and self-limiting in the majority of patients, although it may take some months for the swollen lymph nodes to return to normal.

What do I do if an exposure or injury occurs?

Exposure to aerosols, bites or scratches involving animals or injuries from objects contaminated with body fluids from animals require immediate first aid and medical attention. Notify your supervisor! Then, contact the University Police Department at 593-2611 or dial 911.

This page was last updated on: October 9, 2015