Cat Scratch Disease, also referred to as Cat Scratch Fever, is actually an illness caused by the Bartonella henselae bacteria. It is most commonly transmitted to a person by a cat scratch or bite by a cat infected with the bacteria. Since the bacteria may be present on a cat’s fur, it is also possible to get the disease from rubbing your eyes after petting a cat that carries the bacteria in their saliva.
The CDC estimates that approximately 40% of cats carry the bacteria at some point. Kittens and feral cats are more likely to be infected. Since cats that are carriers of the bacteria show no symptoms or signs of illness, you can’t tell which cats may transmit the disease to you.
To reduce the risk of getting cat scratch disease, you should avoid rough play with your cat which may induce your cat to bite or scratch. In case you do get scratched or bitten by a cat, wash the wound immediately with soap and water. Regularly trim your cat’s claws so you are less likely to get scratched. While it is not known exactly how cats acquire the bacteria, some experts believe that cats acquire the bacteria from fleas, so good flea control is important.
Before you get too worried about getting Cat Scratch Disease, remember that this disease is not common. In one estimate, the CDC found 2.5 cases of Cat Scratch Disease per 100,000 people per year in the US. Cat scratch disease is not usually a serious illness in people with a normal immune system. The first sign is usually a small bump or blister at the site of the scratch or bite. Common symptoms include fatigue, headache, fever and swollen lymph nodes. Most cases are mild and self-limiting.