When Ted Nugent released his paean to catching subacute regional lymphadenitis from “the kitty next door,” it reached number 30 on the Billboard chart. Of course, the Motor City Madman called the song “Cat Scratch Fever,” likely because songs with “Subacute Regional Lymphadenitis” in their title don't typically chart past 50 or 60.
What The Nuge's hit never explained was that the disease is caused by bacteria known as Bartonella henselae This infection is carried in the saliva of about 40 percent of cats at one point during their nine lives. The cats themselves show no indication of any illness, and most people contract it after being scratched or bitten by the feline carrier. But since the bacteria may also be present on cat fur, it is also possible to catch the disease by simply petting the infected tabby. Like tick-borne Lyme disease, it is very common for the infected to have no recollection of when the contracted it.
Fortunately, cat scratch disease is not a very big deal for people with a normal immune system. Along with swelling and tenderness of the lymph nodes, signs and symptoms include:
· loss of appetite
· joint pains
· sore throat
The disease will usually run its course within a few weeks, and most cases do not require antibiotics. Lymph nodes may remain enlarged for a few months, however. If the symptoms are particularly severe, or if the lymph nodes remain inflamed for an exceptionally long period, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics such as rifampin, ciprofloxacin, trimethoprim/sulfamethoxazole, or an injection of gentamicin. Antibiotics are given until the skin lesions resolve, usually in three to four weeks.
Individuals suffering from an impaired immune system, such as HIV/AIDS patients or those receiving chemotherapy treatments for cancer, are in a different care category altogether. In people with HIV/AIDS, the infection can lead to an abnormal growth of blood vessels that form tumor-like masses, a condition called bacillary angiomatosis. This condition can cause severe inflammation of multiple organs including the brain, spleen, liver, lungs, and bone marrow. Untreated, the disease can be fatal in people with HIV/AIDS.