Many families in the United States have cute cats at home, and they provide hours of fun, especially when they interact with the kids. However, sometimes, a cat or kitten might scratch or bite a child when they are playing. If the cat is infected with a bacteria called Bartonella henselae, then your child is at risk of developing cat scratch disease (CSD).
This bacterial infection can make children sick for weeks and, in more severe cases, months! In today’s post, we will look at the common signs and symptoms of cat-scratch disease.
What Is CSD?
As mentioned above, CSD occurs when your child is bitten or scratched by a cat infected with Bartonella henselae. An infected cat or kitten will carry the bacteria in their saliva but will rarely show any symptoms. The bacteria can live in the cat’s mouth for months and can be spread from cat to cat by fleas.
The vast majority of cases are reported during fall and winter. But if you have cats in the house, it is always worth being mindful of the risks by keeping them away from infants and taking precautions against fleas.
Signs and Symptoms
The first sign of cat-scratch disease is a bump or blister at the bite’s site. These bumps or blisters will usually show up a couple of days after the scratch and are generally painless. After a couple of weeks, the lymph nodes near the location of the scratch or bite may start to swell. Typically, the lymph nodes in the child’s elbow, armpit, groin, or neck area will be affected, and they may stay swollen for up to four months.
Other symptoms include:
- General discomfort
- Loss of appetite
- Sore throat
- Weight loss
In most cases, the symptoms are mild, and your child will still be able to carry out their regular activities. However, in some rare cases, CSD can cause more severe symptoms such as high fever and infections of the liver, spleen, bones, or lungs.
What Should I Do if I Notice the Symptoms?
If you know that your child has been scratched or bitten by a cat, wash the area with warm soapy water immediately. In the case of bites, you should contact your pediatrician for advice, as bites may lead to other types of infections.
It’s always wise to contact your pediatrician if your child has swollen lymph nodes, as this could be a symptom of many different conditions. Your pediatrician will ask you if your child has had close contact with a cat and will carry out a physical exam. If they suspect cat scratch disease, they will order blood tests to confirm the diagnosis and rule out anything else.
In many cases, your child’s immune system will fight off the infection by itself, but in severe cases, your child may have to take a course of antibiotics, pus-filled lymph nodes could need to be drained.
Over-the-counter medicines such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help reduce the pain of swollen lymph nodes, as can heat compresses.