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Today, most people own at least one pet whom they consider to be
a part of the family. We are very attached to our pets, and try to
provide them with the best nutrition and health care that we can
possibly afford. As pet owners, we must remember that some very
damaging illnesses can happen by neglecting simple hygiene rules
with our pets, or in our homes. One of these diseases, that
typically go unnoticed in human beings, is Bartonella
"Cat Scratch Disease, in human beings, is caused by the organism
Bartonella, which is spread from cat to cat by fleas" said Dr. John
August, professor of feline internal medicine at Texas A&M
College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. "The
Bartonella organism infects the red blood cells and the cells
lining the blood vessel walls."
Many cats who are exposed to fleas appear to be infected with
Bartonella organisms, without any clinical signs.
"When fleas feed on cats, which is called having a 'blood meal',
the Bartonella organism grows inside the flea" said August. "The
flea will eventually pass the blood meal as feces, and the
'flea-dirt' contains the Bartonella organism."
If flea-dirt is located on a cat's nail and then the cat
scratches a person, the contamination is transferred within the
"Most people diagnosed with Cat Scratch Disease do not have any
clinical signs" noted August. "Some may develop illness of a wide
variety, including fever and lymph node tenderness in the area
closest to where the scratch occurred. The lymph node soreness and
fever may last for several days, although some people develop
enlarged lymph nodes that can last for weeks or months."
In a typical case of Cat Scratch Disease, a person will visit
the doctor after feeling feverish, lethargic, and having headaches
and lymph node tenderness.
"If there is an infection in the scratch, it will not be noticed
until five to ten days after the scratch occurred" said August. "It
is not until seven to ten days after noticing an infected scratch
that you will start to experience lymph node discomfort, and at
that time you may start feeling sick."
Cat Scratch Disease can occur after the mildest of scratches.
CSD cases are most often seen in children, because they tend to
play with kittens, which are more likely to scratch and have
"Cat Scratch Disease becomes a serious problem when someone with
a poorly functioning immune system is scratched and infected with
the Bartonella organism" said August. "CSD can cause serious
problems which affect the brain, eyes, liver, spleen, and bones.
People who have contracted HIV should be cautious around cats of
unknown background, because Cat Scratch Disease can cause serious
disease in those individuals."
In temperate climates where fleas are common, about 25 percent
of cats are thought to be infected.
"The best method of prevention is to keep fleas off your cat"
said August. "The only way that Bartonella organisms can be
transferred between cats is through fleas, therefore try to use a
very good flea control; especially in kittens. Another way to help
keep children from getting the disease is to teach them how to play
responsibly with kittens."
When a child contracts Cat Scratch Disease it can be worrying
for a parent who is unfamiliar with the disease. Symptoms of fever
and swollen lymph nodes often cause parents to think that their
child has a more serious disease. The good news is that people
rarely get Cat Scratch Disease more than once.
"Many people with Cat Scratch Disease will recover without any
help from antibiotics, but for others, antibiotics shorten the
length of the illness. Those with serious disease such as AIDS may
require intensive treatment" said August. "Still the outlook is
very good; within the last month there have been advancements with
more sensitive and accurate ways of diagnosing cats who might be
infected. Researchers at the College of Veterinary Medicine at
North Carolina State University have recently commercialized new
types of diagnostic testing to determine if cats and dogs are
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