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It’s all in the fangs: cat bites can lead to serious infections, doctors warn

The Mayo Clinic reports that a cat bite can lead to a serious infection. According to researchers, cats inject bacteria deep into joints and tissue, excellent breeding grounds for infection. In fact, the study revealed that one in three patients with cat bites had to be hospitalized. And, two-thirds of those hospitalized required surgery. Interestingly, middle-aged women were the most common bite victims.

Why are cat bites so dangerous? According to the researchers, it’s all in the fangs.

According to VCA Animal Hospitals, a cat’s sharp canine teeth easily puncture the skin, leaving tiny, but deep, wounds in the skin which “rapidly seal over, trapping bacteria from the cat’s mount under the skin of the victim.” A cat’s curved nails can also penetrate deep into the skin, injecting bacteria deep into the puncture wound.

In addition, the bacteria injected by a cat’s fangs can include a strain that is especially difficult to combat with antibiotics.

For the study, researchers found 193 Mayo Clinic patients with cat bites to the hand. Of those 193 patients, 57 were hospitalized and spent three days in the hospital, on average. Sixty-percent of the patients were female, and the average age was 49. Approximately fifty percent of the patients first went to the ER and the others went to primary care. The researchers also learned that patients with bites directly over the wrist or any joint in the hand had a greater risk of hospitalization compared to people with bites over soft tissue.

According to Dr. Carlsen, doctors and victims of cat bites to the hand must treat the wounds seriously. Skin inflammation and swelling are signs that the wound should be treated aggressively.

“Cat bites look very benign, but as we know and as the study shows, they are not,” Dr. Carlsen posits. “They can be very serious.”

The study’s findings are described in greater detail in Journal of Hand Surgery.