Published in the May 24 – June 6, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Dr. Jeanne Haggerty-Arcay

Dr. Jeanne Haggerty-Arcay

Cat-scratch disease has been recognized as one of the emerging infectious and zoonotic diseases (zoonotic indicating that it can be transmitted from animals to humans). According to a study published in Emerging Infectious Disease by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in June 2017, cat-scratch disease was diagnosed in an estimated 12,500 people in the United States. Children between the ages of 5 to 9 were most commonly infected.

Cat-scratch disease is caused by a bacteria called Bartonella henselae and is spread between cats by the common flea. Cats typically transmit the disease to humans via scratches and bites, although it can also be transmitted through licking human wounds and depositing the bacteria into the wound from infected saliva.

Most cats infected with Bartonella do not show any signs of disease, although it can cause uveitis (inflammation in the eye), endocarditis (inflammation of the heart) and fever. It is more likely to be transmitted by young cats and kittens than by older cats and up to 40 percent of cats carry the disease. A blood test can be used to detect cats that are infected with the disease, although this is often not performed since these cats are typically not sick.

Infected humans will often develop flu-like symptoms (headache, fever, inappetence, lethargy) in addition to a red swelling at the site of a cat bite or scratch and oftentimes swelling of the lymph node closest to the site of the scratch/bite.


Most cases of cat-scratch disease will resolve without treatment, although antibiotics may be used in some cases. In rare cases it cause very serious complications in humans which can affects with brain, heart, eyes, or other internal organs.

To help prevent disease transmission of cat-scratch disease:

• Always wash your hands with soap and water after playing with your cat (especially in children or those that are immune-compromised)
• Thoroughly wash any scratches with soap and water
• Cat bites can cause very serious infectious and should always be evaluated by your doctor
• Do not allow your cat to lick your open wounds or cuts
• Do not pet or allow your child to pet stray or feral cats
• Keep your cat on regular flea preventatives. Even indoor cats often have fleas. Many over-the-counter flea products labeled for cats are NOT safe for cats. These products are regulated by the EPA for efficacy only but they are not regulated for safety. Cats are very sensitive to flea products. Check with your veterinarian to find a product that will both safe and effective.
• Keep your cat’s nails trimmed to help prevent cat scratches
• Avoid rough play as it may encourage scratching and biting

Dr. Jeanne Haggerty-Arcay received her undergraduate degrees in biology, biochemistry and Spanish from the College of Notre Dame, Belmont. She graduated from U.C. Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. She enjoys spending time with her husband and three young children.

Robert Airoldi

Robert Airoldi

Robert Airoldi is the editor of Morgan Hill Life newspaper. If you have a story idea or an Around Town column item you want to tell him about, you can reach him at (408) 427-5865 or at
Robert Airoldi