Cat scratch disease: It’s rare, but a UH study says Hawaii kids are more vulnerable

Cat scratch disease: It’s rare, but a UH study says Hawaii kids are more vulnerable
UH and Kapiolani doctors are warning about cat scratch disease. (Source: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - A new University of Hawaii study shows Hawaii keiki are more than three times more likely to get severe forms of cat scratch disease than mainland kids.

"It's caused by a bacteria that you primarily get from cats that you get through a scratch or a bite and it's transmitted to cats by fleas," said Dr. Scarlett Johnson, a UH pediatric resident.

Symptoms include fever and swollen lymph nodes. UH and Kapiolani Medical Center doctors studied 18 children who got severe reactions.

“These were children who had infections of their spleen, liver, meningitis, encephalitis. involvement of their eye. Some even developed bone lesions so it was a significant illness in these children,” said Dr. Jessica Kosut, a pediatric hospitalist.

Sarah Pacheco got a mild form of the illness years ago when her new kitten, Kipling, scratched her arm.

"I had just gotten a kitten and they play and you are bound to get scratched, but I noticed I lost my voice completely," she said.

Cat scratch disease is still rare. Doctors think Hawaii's humid climate, outdoor lifestyle and higher feral cat population could be partly to blame.

"I don't think it's cats that are in people's homes, but it can be, but a couple of the children that we took care of described playing with cats that were out in the neighborhood and one child was hiding cats in his closet to keep them a secret from his mother," said Dr. Kosut.

Doctors say cat scratch disease is treatable. Just make sure your cat doesn’t have fleas and doesn’t play with feral cats, and you don’t have to kick out your kitty.

“I’m definitely a fan of cats and I wouldn’t say that this should discourage anyone from getting cats or adopting cats. I just want providers to be aware of it,” said Dr. Johnson.

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