Cat Scratch Disease - Treatment, outlook & prevention

Authored by Dr Jacqueline Payne, 19 Jun 2017

Patient is a certified member of
The Information Standard

Reviewed by:
Dr Colin Tidy, 19 Jun 2017

Most people do not need any treatment - the body is usually good at getting rid of the germ (bacterium) that causes cat scratch disease. Some people get cat scratch disease and get better again without even knowing that they had it. However, for most people it can take time for the body to get rid of the infection. In the meantime you might need to take simple painkillers, such as paracetamol, if your swollen gland (lymph node) is really painful.

About 14 out of every 100 people who get cat scratch disease develop complications with spread of the infection to the liver, spleen, eye or nervous system. This is more likely in children younger than 5 years of age and in people whose immune system is weakened, such as by AIDS. Treatment with an antibiotic, or a combination of antibiotics, is then likely to help.

Most people make a complete recovery in 2-5 months. You should be seen again to make sure that the affected lymph gland has gone back to normal.

The outlook (prognosis) is different if you have developed one of the rare complications. The outlook will then depend on the particular complication and it will be different for different people, according to your age and any other illnesses you have.

Cat scratch disease is preventable. It is rare and most people who get it have a mild illness from which they recover completely. However, not everyone does, so why take the risk? There are some simple things that you can do to reduce the chances of you or a member of your family catching it, such as:

  • Wash cat bites and scratches well with soap and clean, running water.
  • Don't allow cats or kittens to lick your wounds.
  • Make sure you have good flea control for your cats, particularly in households with children.
  • Wash your hands after contact with cats and teach your children to do the same. This is so as to remove cat flea poo that could be infected with B. henselae. Otherwise the germ could get into little breaks in the skin.

Further reading and references

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