Cat-scratch disease (CSD), (also known as “Cat scratch fever”, “Teeny’s Disease”, “Inoculation lymphoreticulosis”, and “Subacute regional lymphadenitis”) is a usually mild bacterial infection that, as the name implies, is spread by cat scratches. Cats pick up the organism from the soil or flea bites which transmit the infection from other cats and carry it on their claws, and sometimes in their mouths. Being licked by a cat can also occasionally give someone the disease. It usually begins on the hands, since that is where most people get scratched by cats. The bacteria form a small lump, which often develops some pus, and then scabs over. Over a period of one to two weeks, tender lymph nodes develop that drain the area of the pustule. Since the pustule is usually on the hand, the lymph nodes at the elbow, in the armpit, and sometimes in the neck can become swollen.
If the bacteria get into the eye, a particular form of conjunctivitis, with swelling of the lymph nodes in front of the ear, can develop, but this is not a common complication.
As with most infectious diseases, people with normal immune systems generally do not get very sick. There may be mild aching around the lymph nodes, but fever is seldom seen. The involved lymph nodes will usually go back to normal in three to six weeks. No treatment other than aspirin or Tylenol for the aching is advised. In more prolonged cases or when a rare complication develops, antibiotics are effective.
The bacterium that causes CSD is now thought to be Bartonella henselae; it is related to the bacteria causing trench fever, which is spread by louse bites, and several other illnesses occurring almost exclusively in people with AIDS, which are spread by tick or flea bites. All of these bacteria require a scratch or insect bite to infect someone.
In people with reduced immune function, such as seen in AIDS or HIV infection, CSD can cause more serious complications, but for most people, it is only a temporary annoyance.
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