Should cat bites be taken more seriously?
Most house cats are sweet, sleepy creatures that are pleasant company. But if a cat is overly playful or aggressive, their behavior can lead to painful scratches and bites.
The bites may seem harmless because they don’t look as vicious as some dog bites. However, according to a new study, cat bites can cause serious infections, especially when they are on the hand.
A Mayo Clinic research team studied nearly 200 cases of cat bites to the hand between 2009 and 2011. Half of the patients went to an emergency room and the other half visited their primary care physician.
The study shows that one out of three people who sought medical treatment for a cat bite on the hand were hospitalized. Of these patients who were hospitalized, two thirds of them needed surgery to remove an infection or clean the wound.
Dr. Brian Carlsen, the study’s senior author, said that cats’ teeth are very sharp, so they can penetrate very deeply into the flesh, tendons and joints. Their fangs trap harmful bacteria deep into the tissue and joints, where it spreads and is difficult to treat.
The study found that bites directly over the wrist or any joint have a higher risk of hospitalization. Dr. Carlsen believes that the higher risk is because joints and tendons are encased in fluid, so they do not have the benefit of regular blood flow that would deliver responses from the immune system. Bacteria in these spots can grow without being challenged, resulting in infections that are so difficult to treat that oral antibiotics do not always work.
“The head of the infectious diseases division at Georgetown University Hospital stated that close to 50 percent of all cat bites become infected. People should not underestimate the risks. Seek immediate medical attention so that you can prevent a serious infection from happening or spreading.”
If you are bitten by a cat, here are some steps you should take, according to Dr. Sikka.
- Wash the wound immediately with mild soap under running water. Avoid scrubbing the wound vigorously or using chemicals because this can cause harm to the tissue.
- If bleeding, apply direct pressure to the wound using a sterile bandage or gauze.
- Apply antibiotic ointment to the area.
- See a doctor as soon as possible. Although it may seem like a small wound, bacteria can start growing immediately. A serious infection can develop within twenty four to forty-eight hours, so consult a doctor quickly.
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