Cat scratch disease

Cat scratch disease is a disease of people carried by cats. Infected cats usually do not show any sign of illness but the disease can be passed to humans via a bite or scratch from the cat.

Cat scratch disease (CSD), also known as Bartonellosis, is caused by a bacteria carried in the blood of cats. CSD is a zoonotic disease, i.e. it is an infectious disease that can be transmitted from cats to other animals and to people.

The disease is well recognised in North America but is also seen in Europe and increasingly in the UK.

The disease is spread from cat to cat via the cat flea and then can be transmitted to humans via a bite or scratch. While fleas do not directly pass the infection to humans, controlling fleas in cats may decrease the risk of infection to humans; primarily as cats are less likely to become infected if fleas are not present.

Ticks are also a major transmitter of the disease. Ticks also carry other infectious diseases such as Lyme disease. People can be infected with both infections at the same time and, since symptoms of the two conditions may be similar, CSD may be missed when testing for Lyme disease.

Infected cats carry the bacteria in their blood. It appears that the disease can only be spread via infected blood but cat’s saliva can be contaminated with blood so that the disease can be transmitted by bites or licking. Cats may also contaminate their nails with infection whilst grooming and the infected blood may enter the human body through a cat scratch. Cats with fleas are more likely to scratch themselves than so in infected cats scratching increases the risk of the cat contaminating its nails with infected blood and passing the disease onto humans.

Kittens are more likely to carry the bacteria in their blood, and are therefore more likely to transmit the disease than are adult cats.

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