A Teenager Was Diagnosed With Schizophrenia—but It Turned Out to Be Cat Scratch Fever

He thought he was the "evil, damned son of the devil."

We all love our fur babies, but sadly, our pets can be the cause of some seriously scary illnesses. As an example, a 14-year-old Midwestern boy suddenly developed suicidal and homicidal thoughts after being scratched by his cat, according to a recent case report published in the Journal of Central Nervous System Disease.

Sudden-Onset Schizophrenia Symptoms

The teen was hospitalized numerous times between October 2015 and January 2017, during which time at least two psychiatrists diagnosed him with schizophrenia. Although he had been healthy before, "he developed psychiatric symptoms including feeling overwhelmed, confused, depressed, and agitated," according to the case report, and said he was an "evil, damned son of the devil."

He was discharged after a week in the hospital in October after he was deemed healthy, but he was hospitalized again for a week in December after he began hallucinating and refusing to leave his house. In January 2016, more symptoms arose, including excessive fatigue, chest pain, and shortness of breath. He was hospitalized again in the summer of 2016, this time for 11 weeks, where he underwent "extensive testing," according to the report, and was once again thought to be experiencing schizophrenia.

Skin Lesions From Cat Scratches

When he came home from his extensive hospital stay, his parents noticed what looked like stretch marks around his armpit and thigh. Although he was still sick, his parents kept him at home and refused another round of hospitalization.

Then, in January 2017, a physician recognized the stretch mark-esque cuts as skin lesions linked to scratches from a cat. Finally, doctors proposed neurobartonellosis, or neurological symptoms of bartonellosis, an infection with Bartonella bacteria that's commonly called cat scratch disease or cat scratch fever.

Journal of Central Nervous System Disease - Sage Journals

So How Much Should You Worry if You Have a Cat?

Fortunately, the teen in the case report made a full recovery after he was given antibiotics, but the case is a scary reminder of the risks of living with your furry friends. Bartonella bacteria can be passed to humans from the scratch of a domestic or feral cat who is infested with infected fleas, according to the CDC. While the symptoms of cat scratch disease usually include a mild fever and tender lymph nodes, neurological complications can occur in some patients—which is why doctors thought the teen in the case report had schizophrenia.

It's more common than you'd think for your feline friends to be exposed to the bacteria. According to the National Organization of Rare Disorders (NORD), almost half of domestic cats have antibodies to the strain of Bartonella that causes cat scratch disease.

And while human infection can happen, it's rare for cat scratch disease to turn serious. The CDC estimates that around 12,000 people who see a doctor leave with a diagnosis of cat scratch disease each year, and 500 people who are hospitalized have the infection.

You can help prevent cat scratch fever by keeping your cat flea-free, keeping her up-to-date on her vaccines, and limiting her outdoor time, according to the NORD.

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