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Published: Aug 09, 2012

When you hear the words "cat scratch disease," you may assume that you're hearing about a type of feline illness. But in reality, cat scratch disease, or CSD, is an illness that affects humans, according to VCA Animal Hospitals. The illness itself is caused by a microorganism known as Bartonella henselae and it is most commonly transmitted through a cat scratch or bite.  

What does CSD look like?

Symptoms of cat scratch fever can vary, but typically involve mild fever, fatigue and enlarged lymph nodes. You may see lesions on the skin or conjunctiva, a membrane coating the eyelid and white of the eye. Fortunately, most cases of CSD resolve without the need for medication, however, VCA reports that there are a few strains of the Bartonella species that may cause more serious, even chronic problems.

How did I get infected?

VCA reports that CSD can be passed a number of ways, and cases have occurred in people with no apparent contact with cats.  However, the most common way humans are exposed are through contact with infected cats. Fleas carry the Bartonella henselae organism and when fleas feed on cats they will infect that cat as well as leave “flea dirt” on the cat that is also infectious and can be transmitted to humans.  If you were recently scratched by a cat and are now experiencing symptoms of CSD, then chances are you may have contracted the illness from the cat scratch.  However, a scratch is not absolutely necessary and you may contract the illness by more casual contact with infected “flea dirt” on the cat.  That's why it's essential for cat owners to speak to their vet about ways to prevent cat fleas.

How can I prevent CSD?

Many of the things you are doing to take care of your cat and keep him healthy can also help prevent cases of CSD. Keep your cat's nails trimmed, as this will reduce his likelihood of scratching. However, take note that there is no evidence that shows de-clawing your cat will reduce instances of CSD. This is because it's not the claw itself, but rather the infected flea dirt underneath the claw, that causes the illness. Avoiding rough play with your cat is a good way to prevent the illness, but if you do get bitten or scratched by your cat, be sure to wash the site thoroughly with soap or disinfectant. Indoor cats may be less likely to contract fleas, but no matter whether your feline remains inside or ventures into the great outdoors, year-round flea control is a must.