In Belgium, bartonellosis occurs mainly in the form of cat scratch disease which is an infectious disease caused by the bacterium Bartonella henselae. It is a zoonosis (i.e. a disease that can be transmitted between animals and humans) transmitted through the bite or scratch from an infected cat. 


Cat scratch disease is a worldwide zoonosis transmitted from cats to humans, caused by the bacterium Bartonella henselae. People become infected after a bite or scratch from an infected cat, often a kitten. Cats can have fleas that carry the B. henselae bacteria and transmission to humans most likely occurs due to contamination of scratch or bite wounds with flea faeces or through contaminated saliva. Direct infection through the bite of an infected flea or an infected tick, which can also carry B. henselae, cannot be ruled out but is so far not proven.


In people with good immunity, a B. henselae infection is often associated with a harmless illness that usually passes on its own. One or more nodules appear at the site of the scratch or bite, on which blisters subsequently appear. Approximately one-third of patients develop fever, headache and a feeling of general malaise. One to three weeks after exposure, swelling of one (sometimes more) lymph node(s) can occur. Yet, the infection can also (especially in people with weakened immune systems), cause very serious symptoms possibly with a fatal outcome. 

High-risk groups

The most important risk group are people who come into contact with cats in a domestic or occupational context.

Other forms of bartonellosis

In addition to B. henselae, other species of Bartonella are also known to be pathogenic in humans, including B. quintana, of which only sporadic cases have been reported in Belgium.

Sciensano is responsible for the epidemiological surveillance of bartonellosis in Belgium. For this purpose, we collect data via various surveillance systems. These enable us to describe the occurrence of the disease, to follow trends over time and to identify possible risk factors for infection.

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