Cat Scratch Disease, Cat Scratch Fever, Bartonellosis Call it Whatever, but You Need to be Informed

For those who have brought a family feline into the Brockton Animal Hospital at any time in recent years I am sure you remember the blood sample that was taken during the first or second visit. There were two tests performed on this sample, one for Feline Leukemia and Feline “AIDS” Virus, the other for Cat Scratch Disease, also remembered by many as Cat Scratch Fever (yes a song title from a while back). Feline Leukemia and Feline Immunodeficiency is a concern for cats only. But Cat Scratch Disease (Bartonella Henselae), while being of mild concern for the feline carrier, is worthy of major attention for the pet owner and his/her family. The flea is the main transmitting vector for this bacteria.

Bartonella was first isolated several years ago but it wasn’t until the mid 1990’s that the full implication of it’s seriousness began to emerge. It was then a broad research study revealed that in one year over thirty children seen at a teaching hospital in Texas, contracted Cat Scratch Disease resulting in partial or complete blindness, seizures or other serious neurological diseases. The staff at the Brockton Animal Hospital felt that we needed to do more to assess the potential threat to ourselves as well as our clients. We created a testing program for the hospital and after securing special arrangements with National Veterinary Laboratory in New Jersey, decided to test every new cat that was seen at our hospital during December 1999. Expecting to detect approximately 1-5% positive in our patient cross section, we were shocked to find that nearly 35% of all patients seen during the month were positive for the disease. If one were to compare this to the feline retrovirus diseases (leukemia and AIDS), consider that less than 4% of all cats in our practice are positive for either of those viruses. The decision was made FOR us. Nearly every cat who has visited the Brockton Animal Hospital since 2000 has been tested for Bartonella Henselae. Positive cats can easily be treated with antibiotics.

The road for this program has not always been easy. Many veterinarians still do not routinely test for this disease. Some minimize the seriousness. In most healthy individuals a cat scratch or bite from an infected feline (the two most common means of infection) may only result in minor illness if any at all. But people with a suppressed immune system (recent sickness, HIV positive, currently on chemotherapy, immature immune system such as in small children) can become very ill. Consider these two most recent published cases. In the New England Journal of Medicine, May 21, 2015 a 9 year old child was seen at the Massachusetts General Hospital after she suffered a loss of consciousness and seizures that had dated back to the Fall of 2014. Twice her seizures resulted in her falling down and receiving a Traumatic Brain Injury. Once her diagnosis was made (Bartonellosis) she was appropriately treated and has recovered well. On May 29, 2015 CBS reported the case of an Ohio woman who lost sight in one eye when a scratch from an infected cat who was a carrier for cat scratch disease resulted in a severe eye inflammation. Treatment with the appropriate antibiotic has resulted in her recovery as well.

These are just two of the recent reminders that Cat Scratch Disease is a very real threat to the cat owning public. This certainly is no reason to panic as most healthy individuals will be unaffected by any contact with an infected cat. But it is a reminder that in the world of “One Health” our pets affect us as well as we affect them. If your pets have not been checked for Bartonella it is time to do so. The treatment for positive cats is safe, effective and easy. But becoming a patient with Cat Scratch Disease can be a formidable experience and not one any of us would wish to endure.