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Cat scratch disease
Cat scratch disease



Cat scratch disease is an infectious illness caused by the bacteria bartonella. It is believed to be transmitted by cat scratches, bites, or exposure to cat saliva.

Alternative Names:

CSD; Cat scratch fever; Bartonellosis

Causes, incidence, and risk factors:

Cat scratch disease is caused by Bartonella henselae. The disease is spread through contact with an infected cat (a bite or scratch), or contact with cat saliva on broken skin or the white of the eye .

About 2 - 3 weeks after becoming infection, lymph nodes swelling (lymphadenopathy ) occurs near the site of the scratch or bite.

Occasionally, an infected lymph node may form a tunnel (fistula ) through the skin and drain. Cat scratch disease is a common causes of chronic lymph node swelling in children.


A person who has had contact with a cat may show common symptoms, including:

  • Bump (papule ) or blister (pustule ) at site of injury (usually the first sign)
  • Lymph node swelling near the scratch or bite
  • Fever (in some patients)
  • Fatigue
  • Overall discomfort (malaise )
  • Headache

Less common symptoms may include:

Signs and tests:

A scratch or injury and a history of contact with a cat indicates that cat scratch disease is a possible cause of the lymph node swelling. In some cases, physical examination also shows an enlarged spleen (splenomegaly).

The disease often goes unrecognized because of the difficulty in testing. However, the Bartonella henselae IFA test is highly sensitive and specific for the detection of infection caused by this bacteria.

Other tests used in the diagnosis of cat scratch disease:


Generally, cat scratch disease is not serious. Medical treatment is not usually needed. However, in severe cases, treatment with antibiotics can be helpful.

In AIDS patients and in other people who have suppressed immune systems, cat scratch disease is more serious, and treatment with antibiotics is recommended.

Support Groups:

Expectations (prognosis):

In children with normal immune systems, full recovery without treatment is the norm. In immunocompromised people, treatment with antibiotics generally leads to recovery.


Calling your health care provider:

Call your health care provider if you have enlarged lymph nodes and a history of exposure to a cat.


Avoiding contact with cats prevents the disease. Where this is not reasonable, good hand-washing after playing with a cat, avoiding scratches and bites, and avoiding cat saliva will lessen the risk of infection.

Review Date: 8/6/2007
Reviewed By: D. Scott Smith, MD., MSc., DTM., Prof. Medical Microbiology & Immunology, Dept. of Human Biology, Stanford Univ. School of Medicine, Stanford, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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