Bartonella “Cat Scratch Disease”

Feline bartonellosis is caused by the bacteria Bartonella henselae and is the most common cause of Cat Scratch Disease in people. Most cats get this disease and transmit it to other cats from fleas. Cats with Bartonella get infected flea dirt under their nails and transmit it to people when they scratch them. Most cats that have this disease do not show any clinical signs.

This disease can affect cats of all breeds, ages, and sexes. However, kittens less than 1 year old, cats with flea infestations, stray or feral cats and outdoor cats are more likely to be affected.

Because Bartonella is transmitted by fleas, and possibly ticks, providing proper flea control for your pet is the most important measure to take at home. Additionally, keeping pets indoors and away from other animals that may have fleas can help prevent them from getting this disease. Immunocompromised adults and children should avoid playing rough with cats, especially with kittens that may have a tendency to scratch and bite when they are playing. Any cat bites or scratches should be promptly and thoroughly washed and medical advice should be sought.

Since fleas carry the bacteria, cats with insufficient flea control are at highest risk. This means cats living in climates that are warm and humid (conditions where fleas thrive best) are most likely to be infected. If conditions are right, up to 40% of cats in an area may be infected. If a person is diagnosed with cat scratched disease, there is a 90% chance that the cats they own will be found infected as well.

This sounds somewhat concerning for the cat-owners in a flea area but it is important to realize that an infected cat cannot transmit the infection without a claw full of flea dirt. If the fleas are removed from the infected cat, there will be no flea dirt in the coat and no risk of disease transmission.

Prevention of Human Infection:

  • HIV-infected persons, particularly those who are severely immunosuppressed, are at unusually high risk for developing relatively severe disease due to infection with Bartonella, which can be transmitted from cats. These persons should consider the potential risks for cat ownership. Persons who acquire a cat should adopt or purchase an animal aged greater than 1 year that is in good health.
  • HIV-infected persons should avoid rough play with cats and situations in which scratches are likely. Any cat-associated wound should be washed promptly. Cats should not be allowed to lick open wounds or cuts of HIV-infected persons.
  • Care of cats should include flea control.
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