Cat lovers might want to take extra caution the next time they tempt the wrath of their favorite pet feline.
A new study produced by the Mayo Clinic has found that cat bites are potentially more serious than most individuals, and medical experts, previously thought.
In fact, about 30 percent of people seeking medical treatment for a cat bite need hospitalization to treat the wound.
“Among hand surgeons, this is not really as surprising,” Dr. Brian Carlsen, who led the study, told Yahoo News in a phone interview. “But there really isn’t good literature out there.”
The three-year study confirms what hand surgeons like Carlsen have long suspected — that most people who suffer from serious cat bites simply assume the wounds will heal on their own.
“Cat bite injuries to the hand can progress to serious infection,” reads an excerpt from the study. “The treatment of such infections often requires hospitalization, intravenous antibiotic therapy, and operative treatment … these findings should increase concern for a severe infection and warrant hospitalization and urgent consultation with a hand surgeon.”
In most cases, a cat bite isn’t serious. Cats have smaller teeth than larger pets like dogs and rarely are able to tear the skin. However, a cat bite poses a threat almost like a needle injection. On the surface, the bite might not appear to pose a health risk, but the deep puncture wound may have left dangerous bacteria inside a person’s body.
In January, Marie Joyce wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post detailing how a bite from her pet cat left her in the hospital for four days. And earlier this month, an Oregon man caught a case of bubonic plague after being bitten by a cat.
“With cats, they can insert the bacteria quite deeply,” Carlsen said.
And if the bite is located on one of the hand’s joints, the body’s immune system is less likely to be able to flush out or attack the source of infection.
“On the hand, there are so many joints,” Carlsen said. “They don’t have any circulation, they are just petri dishes. The immune system doesn’t have access to them.”
Bottom line: Carlsen says if you’ve been bitten by a cat and don’t see improvement in the wound in the first 24 hours, you should probably seek treatment. Beyond that, he says, caregivers also have a responsibility to do more than hand out a course of antibiotics.
For example, in the Mayo Clinic study, 21 patients did not respond to antibiotic treatment.
If a deep joint wound isn’t properly treated, it may end up needing costly surgery.
“I was surprised to see how bad so many of them are,” Carlsen said. “We see many cases requiring multiple surgeries. “