An encounter with the sharp teeth and claws of your playful house-cat or a less agreeable feline might have given you more than itchy welts and scratches. Sometimes, a scratch or mild nip that breaks the skin may be followed by a more serious reaction often called "cat scratch fever". "Cat scratch disease or cat scratch fever is due to a common bacteria called Bartonella Henselae that lives in cats. It can be in their bloodstream, it can be in their saliva, and it can be on their fur because cats are constantly licking themselves," according to Dr. Gregory Juckett from the WVU School of Medicine.
An allergic reaction to cat dander or saliva is mild, causing hives that last only an hour or two. A more severe reaction that lasts over a week could be cat scratch disease. "There's a little tiny water blister or red bump that appears at the site of the scratch," said Dr. Juckett. "And then that bacteria spreads to the local lymph node, often in the armpit or sometimes in the neck, and that lymph node will enlarge and become painful."
Typically, however, adult cats have outgrown the cat-scratch disease bacteria. "Kittens are usually the source of the cat scratch fever infection. They bite and scratch more, often in play, and they're often infected more with fleas, and their immune systems are more vulnerable," according to Dr. Juckett. He said if your immune system is healthy, it usually clears up in about a month and only people who have impaired immune systems need to take antibiotics.
Wild rodents are a common source of many illnesses for cats and their human companions. "Keeping your pet cat indoors and free of fleas can help ensure a healthy life for your cat, and for you," said Dr. Rolly Sullivan from the WVU School of Medicine.