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Published: Oct 12, 2011

Many cat owners may not know they could be at risk of developing a disease from their felines. According to, cat scratch fever, or cat scratch disease (CSD), is one such condition. Cat scratch disease is a disease of humans, not of cats. Cats may carry the bacteria - called Bartonella henselae - without any signs of illness. If such a cat bites or scratches a person they could transmit the bacteria to that person, resulting in CSD. One report suggested that as many as 40 percent of cats may have been exposed to Bartonella at some time in their lives.

Although a large number of felines may carry the Bartonella organism, it is still an uncommon disease in people. Most cases are probably not even reported since the majority of signs people experience are not life-threatening and the symptoms tend to go away on their own in a few weeks.

If an owner is scratched or bitten, monitor the site for signs of swelling, redness or pus which may indicate general infection. VCA Animal Hospitals reports that common symptoms of CSD actually occur a few days after the incident and may include swollen lymph nodes, mild fever, lethargy or the chills. Always contact your physician as antibiotics may need to be prescribed to help people feel better faster. More severe disease is rare, but possible, and may include signs of high fever, weight loss, arthritis, enlarged liver and spleen, pneumonia and even neurologic signs. These more severe signs are most common in people with compromised immune systems.

The publication reports that most cats acquire the Bartonella bacteria when they are bitten by infected fleas. To prevent flea infestations and CSD, owners should give their cats parasite prevention medication.