November 01, 2018

Do cat scratches pose particular risks?

Q: My cat scratched me while I was trimming his claws and the wound later became infected. Are cat scratches a special concern?

A: "Cat Scratch Fever" is more than a rock-and-roll song. A bite or scratch from a cat carries particular risks, and infection is common. Cat-scratch disease is a specific type of bacterial infection that occurs when a cat bites or scratches hard enough to break the skin's surface or licks an open wound. It's estimated that 40 percent of cats carry this particular bacterium, usually after an exposure to fleas or another animal that was exposed. However, most cats with the infection show no signs of illness.

Symptoms of cat-scratch disease appear within two weeks after the contact with an infected animal. Swelling and redness occur around the wound, and you may also experience a fever, headache, poor appetite and fatigue.

The most notable characteristic of the disease is tender and swollen lymph nodes near the wound that typically remain swollen for months. Although the disease will clear on its own in healthy people, treatment with antibiotics may be recommended.

Rarely, the disease can cause serious complications, especially in children under 5 and people with weakened immune systems.

A Mayo Clinic study reported that 1 in 3 people seeking treatment for cat bites on the hand needed to be hospitalized. And the majority of those hospitalized needed surgery to remove infected tissue. This is because penetration was deep enough to deposit bacteria into the joints or protective layers around the tendons.

Prevent infection from a cat bite or scratch with these tips: