Cat Scratch Disease: Definition, Cause, Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

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Cat scratch disease is a condition transmitted by cat bites, scratches or by being exposed to cat saliva. This disease is caused by the bartonella bacteria and is classified as an infectious illness. Approximately two weeks after acquiring the infection the lymph nodes near the site of the bite or scratch will begin to swell. This disease tends to affect children the most and is a common cause of chronically swollen lymph nodes in children.

What are the Symptoms of this Disease?

The first symptoms often include a blister or bump at the injury site and swollen lymph nodes near the injury site. Other common symptoms can include headache, fever, overall discomfort and fatigue. The less common symptoms of this disease can include lymph node draining, loss of appetite, sore throat, enlarged spleen and weight loss. Patients with cat allergies may experience allergy symptoms as well.

How is this Disease Diagnosed?

If a patient is presenting the known symptoms and has indicated that they have been bitten or scratched by a cat the diagnosis is often determined. Most doctors will also perform a physical exam and will check for signs of an enlarged spleen. A Bartonella henselae IFA test can also be performed to check for its presence. In some cases, a lymph node biopsy may be performed to rule out other medical conditions that can cause swollen lymph glands.

How is this Disease Treated?

In many cases no medical treatment is necessary. When medical treatment is not necessary, patients should be sure to rest and get plenty of fluids for a few days until they feel better. However, if the disease does become serious antibiotic medications can be prescribed to help fight the infection. Patients with compromised immune systems, such as those with certain autoimmune diseases or the AIDS virus, will always be given antibiotics to help avoid serious complications.

Does this Disease Have a Good Prognosis?

Most patients will recover fully without any medical treatment. Those who require antibiotics most often recover fully after they have completed their course of antibiotics. In rare cases, patients may experience complications. The possible complications associated with cat scratch disease include osteomyelitis, Parinaud’s syndrome, neuroretinitis and encephalopathy.


Medline Plus. (2007). Cat Scratch Disease. Retrieved on September 29, 2009 from Website: