-- Mary Elizabeth Dallas
SUNDAY, Feb. 9, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- Cat bites may look less
serious than dog bites, but beware: They can cause dangerous
infections, particularly when they involve the hand, new research
Although cats have no more germs in their mouths than dogs or
people, researchers at the Mayo Clinic found that when cats bite,
their sharp teeth can inject hard-to-treat bacteria deeply into the
skin and joints, increasing the risk for serious infection.
"Dogs' teeth are blunter, so they don't tend to penetrate as deeply and they tend to leave a larger wound after they bite," study senior author Dr. Brian Carlsen, a Mayo Clinic plastic surgeon and orthopedic hand surgeon, said in a clinic news release. "Cats' teeth are sharp and can penetrate very deeply. They can seed bacteria in the joint and tendon sheaths."
"It can be just a pinpoint bite mark that can cause a real problem," he said, "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."
The researchers studied nearly 200 cat bite cases that occurred
between 2009 and 2011. The patients involved in the study were all
bitten on the hand. The average of the participants was 49 years
old, and 69 percent were women.
About half the patients visited an emergency room, while the
rest went to their primary-care physician. The average time people
waited between getting bitten and seeking treatment was 27
The researchers said 57 of the patients who were bitten needed
to be hospitalized, but only 36 had been admitted immediately after
seeking medical treatment.
Of those admitted to the hospital, 38 patients needed surgery to
clean the wound or remove infected tissue. The study, published in
the February issue of the
Journal of Hand Surgery, also revealed that eight patients
needed more than one surgical procedure, and some needed
Meanwhile, 80 percent of the patients were initially prescribed
oral antibiotics, the researchers said. For 14 percent of these
patients, outpatient treatment with antibiotics didn't work and
they needed to be hospitalized.
In most cases, bites that were positioned directly over the
wrist or another joint were more likely to result in
hospitalization than bites to soft tissue, the researchers
Cat bites need to be taken seriously and carefully evaluated by
doctors, the study authors said. This is particularly true when
patients develop inflamed skin and swelling. In these cases, the
researchers said, the wound should be treated aggressively.
"Cat bites look very benign, but -- as we know and as the study shows -- they are not," Carlsen said. "They can be very serious."
The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about
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