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Cat scratch disease more common than thought

12,500 people are diagnosed with cat scratch disease (CSD) annually

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Motor City rocker Ted Nugent might have been on to something when he sang “Cat Scratch Fever.”

An article published in October by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 12,500 people are diagnosed with cat scratch disease (CSD) annually. An estimated 500 of them become so sickened by the disease that they require hospitalization.

The findings pointed to CSD as being more common than previously thought.

The communicable disease is caused by a species of bacteria typically spread by fleas, said Bruce Kornreich, DVM, Ph.D., Dipl. ACVIM, associate director of the Cornell Feline Health Center. In some cases, the disease is transmitted to people by cats through bites, scratches and licking. Dogs can be a vector, but rarely.

Children under age 5 and people with compromised immune systems are at special risk for contracting the disease.

Dr. Kornreich urged cat owners to take precautions such as using flea treatments, keeping cats inside, training cats not to bite or scratch, monitoring a young child’s interaction with cats, and washing hands after handling a cat.

The study looked at health insurance claims from 2005 to 2013 to identify people diagnosed with CSD. It found:

  • CSD to be highest in the southern United States, with 6.4 cases per 100,000 population.
  • Mountain states had the lowest rates (2.2 cases per 100,000 population).
  • Women and girls accounted for 62 percent of outpatient and more than 55 percent of inpatient diagnoses.
  • CSD was most common among children ages 5 to 9 (9.4 cases per 100,000 population).

Cat scratch disease was identified in 1950, but diagnostic tests didn’t materialize until the 1980s.

The study was conducted by Christina A. Nelson and Paul Mead of the CDC and Shubhayu Saha of Emory University.


Originally published in the November 2016 issue of Veterinary Practice News. Did you enjoy this article? Then subscribe today! 

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