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Symptoms and Signs of Cat Scratch Disease (CSD or Cat Scratch Fever)

Doctor's Notes on Cat Scratch Disease (CSD or Cat Scratch Fever)

Cat scratch disease (CSD) is a syndrome that begins on the skin where a pet cat (kitten usually) has scratched, licked or bit a person. Signs and symptoms of cat scratch disease usually begins with red, tender papules or pustules at the site contact site. A reddish rash may develop along with fever, headache loss of appetite and/or weight loss, sore throat, joint pains, fatigue and some patients may have an enlarged spleen. The signs and symptoms can progress to painful regional lymph nodes in the next one to three weeks; in some individuals, swollen nodes may develop a fistula and drain fluid. However, many patients have mild symptoms and the disease can be self – limiting.

The majority of CSD infections are caused by Bartonella henselae, a gram-negative bacterium. These organisms can be found in about 40% of all cats (saliva and claws) and in fleas that infest cats. Brakes in in the skin allow the bacteria from the cat’s saliva or claws or from crushed fleas to enter the skin and cause the disease.

CSD Is different from an adult cat bite; adult cats that bite can lead to a rapidly progressing infection (48 hours) due to Pasteurella multocida and/or other organisms. Adult cat bites need immediate treatment.

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 3/11/2019


Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.