Cat bites can be considerably more dangerous than most people assume, according to new research from Mayo Clinic. The findings of the new study state that one in every three recipients of a cat bite to the hand ends up hospitalized, with two-thirds of those hospitalized ending up requiring surgery.
The study notes that the complication most often experienced by cat bite victims is a deep-tissue infection. The research also found that, somewhat unsurprisingly, and somewhat humorously, middle-aged women were the most common victim of cat bites.
The reason for increased likelihood for infection, as compared to human or dog bites, is all down to the fangs. Cat mouths don’t harbor bacteria that is anymore dangerous than that found in dog mouths, it’s simply that their fangs are far more effective at delivering this bacteria deep into the meat of what it bites.
“The dogs’ teeth are blunter, so they don’t tend to penetrate as deeply and they tend to leave a larger wound after they bite. The cats’ teeth are sharp and they can penetrate very deeply, they can seed bacteria in the joint and tendon sheaths,” explains study author Brian Carlsen, MD, a Mayo Clinic plastic surgeon and orthopedic hand surgeon. “It can be just a pinpoint bite mark that can cause a real problem, because the bacteria get into the tendon sheath or into the joint where they can grow with relative protection from the blood and immune system.”
Mayo Clinic provides more:
In the study, researchers identified 193 Mayo Clinic patients with cat bites to the hand from January 1, 2009, through 2011. Of those, 57 were hospitalized; on average, they were in the hospital three days. Of those hospitalized, 38 needed to have their wounds surgically irrigated, or flushed out, and infected tissue removed, a procedure known as debridement. Eight patients needed more than one operation, and some needed reconstructive surgery.
Of the 193 patients, 69 percent were female, and the mean age was 49. About half of the patients first went to the emergency room, and the others went to primary care. The mean time between the bite and medical care was 27 hours. Patients with bites directly over the wrist or any joint in the hand had a higher risk of hospitalization than people with bites over soft tissue, the study found. Thirty-six of the 193 patients were hospitalized immediately when they sought medical care, while 154 were treated with oral antibiotics as outpatients and three weren’t treated. The outpatient antibiotic treatment failed in 21 patients, a 14 percent failure rate, and those patients needed to be hospitalized.
So, essentially, the takeaway message of this research is that while cat bites may seem insignificant, they can cause serious problems for some people. Despite their seeming insignificance as compared to dog bites, they can actually be far more dangerous, mostly as the result of an increased risk for infection.
The new findings were just published in the Journal of Hand Surgery.
Image Credit: Cat via Flickr CC