Is cat scratch fever just a popular song? Or is it actually a real condition?

You might be from a generation that can’t hear these three words together without the hard-rock melody playing in your head. Sorry for that.

In fact, cat scratch fever is a very real condition. It’s a zoonotic bacterial infection – meaning it’s an illness that can be passed from animals to humans.

It’s estimated that about 40% of cats carry the bacteria that causes this infection at some point in their lives. The bacteria (Bartonella henselae) comes from flea bites or flea droppings. This is also a great reminder to handle any flea issues quickly – and safely.

Cats can also become infected by brawling with an already infected cat. Interestingly, most cats with cat scratch fever do not exhibit any sign of illness. In rare cases, this bacteria can cause infection in a cat’s eyes, urinary tract, or mouth. Inflammation of the heart has also been observed but it very uncommon.

How Can Humans Catch Cat Scratch Fever?

Humans become infected when scratched or bit by an infected cat hard enough to break the skin. Who among us hasn’t had a cat scratch that breaks the skin? If you already have an open wound, an infected cat can also transmit this illness by licking your wound – so don’t let cats lick your boo boos. Same as with cats, most humans exposed to this illness do not become symptomatic. A healthy immune system usually handles the exposure to this bacteria.

For those of us more susceptible to illness, you can expect some unpleasant symptoms to show up 3-14 days after exposure. Headache, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes (near the site of the bite or scratch) and yes. You guessed it. A cat scratch fever.

These symptoms usually resolve on their own, but in rare cases treatment is needed.

So – the reality of cat scratch fever serves as a good reminder to thoroughly clean even playful bites and scratches. While none of us may fully recover from the song that made it to Billboards Top 40, we can all do our best to avoid the real disease.



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