Cat Scratch Fever

Cat scratch disease, also called cat scratch fever, is an infection caused by bacteria called Bartonella henselae. The board-certified, fellowship-trained pediatric infectious disease specialists with Norton Children’s Infectious Diseases, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, evaluate and treat Bartonella.

What Is Cat Scratch Fever?

Cat scratch fever, also called cat scratch disease, is an infection that can happen after being bitten or scratched by a cat carrying Bartonella. Cat scratch fever usually happens after being scratched or bitten by a domestic or feral cat, especially a kitten. Cats are exposed to Bartonella through flea bites, fights with infected cats or blood transfusions. Cats can become ill after carrying Bartonella, but usually carry the bacteria without getting sick.

Cat Scratch Fever Prevention

The best way to prevent cat scratch fever is to thoroughly clean any bite or scratch from a cat immediately after it happens. If your child gets bitten or scratched by a cat, let your child’s pediatrician know.

Other prevention methods can include:

  • Make sure your cats do not have fleas; consider using flea protection medicines as recommended by a veterinarian.
  • Do not allow kittens or cats to lick open wounds on people.
  • Do not allow children to play/interact with stray cats.
  • Do not encourage children to play roughly with cats; if a cat’s ears are flattened, it means the cat is upset and the child should leave the cat alone.
  • Make sure any cat you adopt or bring home is in good health and free of fleas.

Cat Scratch Fever Symptoms

Symptoms can develop one to three weeks after a scratch or bite. Children younger than age 15 are more likely to develop cat scratch fever. In the United States, cat scratch fever is more common during the fall and winter.

The most common symptoms of cat scratch fever can include:

  • Fever
  • Feeling tired (lethargy)
  • Enlarged, tender lymph nodes, about 1 to 2 inches wide, that may be warm to the touch and look red
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Rash
  • Scab or boil at the scratch site

Rarely, a child may have more severe symptoms such as:

  • Drainage/pus from a lymph node
  • Eye infection
  • High fever
  • Infection of liver, spleen, lungs or nervous system

Cat Scratch Fever Treatment

Cat scratch fever, or cat scratch disease, rarely is serious and usually can go away on its own without treatment. Once a child has the condition, they are unlikely to get it again. The pediatric infectious disease specialists with Norton Children’s Infectious Diseases can create a treatment plan for a child based on their age, medical history and current health. Treatments may include:

  • Watching and monitoring the condition for changes. In many cases, skin issues will heal within three weeks. Swollen lymph nodes can heal in four months.
  • Medicines for fever, pain or headache. Acetaminophen or ibuprofen may be given to help manage these symptoms. Do not use aspirin to treat a child’s fever, as it has been linked to Reye’s syndrome in children.
  • Pain relief: Heat compresses may be used on the bite or scratch.
  • Antibiotics: In more severe cases, antibiotics may be prescribed to reduce symptoms.
  • Lymph node procedure: Should a lymph node become too large, painful or severely infected, a procedure may be needed to drain or remove the lymph node.

Why Choose Norton Children’s Infectious Diseases?

  • Norton Children’s Infectious Diseases specializes in the care of children from birth through adolescence.
  • With seven infectious diseases specialists and one nurse practitioner on staff, your child can be seen quickly, especially for urgent needs.
  • Members of our team are nationally recognized and have held or serve in leadership positions related to infectious diseases.
  • Our provider team is leading Norton Children’s Hospital and Norton Children’s Medical Group in COVID-19 efforts, helping streamline infection prevention and providing patient care during the pandemic.
  • Our team provides inpatient consultation services at Norton Children’s Hospital and Norton Women’s & Children’s Hospital, as well as telemedicine services throughout Kentucky. Our physicians also treat patients at UofL Hospital.
  • Keep up with your child’s lab results, communicate with your provider and schedule appointments through MyNortonChart.
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