You don't have to spend long on social media to know that cats and kittens seem to dominate the internet. They seem to dominate our homes too - apparently one in three households in the USA have a pet cat. Research shows that being able to look after a pet makes us happier and also teaches our children compassion and gentleness. So it's understandable that there are a lot of cat lovers out there and if you are one and are reading this, don't panic - cat scratch disease is pretty rare. But it's worth knowing about, as it's also preventable.
So what is it?
It's an infection caused by a germ that gets into your body from an infected cat - or more likely kitten - when it scratches or bites you. It's usually fairly mild and eventually goes away without any treatment, although it can take several months.
Who gets it?
You are most likely to get cat scratch disease if you are a child aged between 5 and 9 years, but anyone of any age can get it and older women seem particularly prone. It's found wherever there are cats and cat fleas - so all over the world. It seems to be a bit more common where it's warmer, perhaps because cat fleas can't survive as long when it's cold.
What should I do if I think I've caught it?
If you or someone you know has developed some spots or lumps within a week or two of being scratched by a kitten or a cat, you should see a doctor. Don't forget to tell them about the cat scratch.
Will I get better?
The short answer is yes. Only a very few people with cat scratch disease have long-term effects from it or develop a serious, life-threatening complication. Most people are back to normal within a few months or so.
Further reading and references
Klotz SA, Ianas V, Elliott SP; Cat-scratch Disease. Am Fam Physician. 2011 Jan 1583(2):152-5.
Nelson CA, Saha S, Mead PS; Cat-Scratch Disease in the United States, 2005-2013. Emerg Infect Dis. 2016 Oct22(10):1741-6. doi: 10.3201/eid2210.160115.
Mazur-Melewska K, Mania A, Kemnitz P, et al; Cat-scratch disease: a wide spectrum of clinical pictures. Postepy Dermatol Alergol. 2015 Jun32(3):216-20. doi: 10.5114/pdia.2014.44014. Epub 2015 Jun 15.
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