Every year, there are an estimated 400,000 cat bites in the United States, with animal bites accounting for approximately 1 percent of all emergency room visits. Although dog bites are far more common, cat bites can be unusually dangerous, with one study showing that one out of three cat bites to the hand led to the patients being hospitalized. If left untreated, the infection from a cat bite can spread to the rest of the body, leading to sepsis and possible death.
Cat bites are high-risk wounds
Cat bites are unusually dangerous for a number of reasons. “Cat bites are considered high risk, mainly because their teeth are so small and sharp, that they tend to cause deep puncture wounds,” says Camila Calderón, an emergency medicine physician with UTHealth Houston McGovern Medical School.
Cat bites also tend to happen on the upper body, most notably the hands, which are more vulnerable to becoming infected. In the hand, there are a lot of different muscles and tendons that, if a bite were to happen, can become infected, which will then spread to other parts of the hand.
Another reason that cat bites are uniquely risky are due to the presence of a bacteria called pasteurella multocida, which is one of the major causes of hand infections from cat bites. Pasteurella infections are uniquely fast-growing, and when it happens in a more susceptible area, such as the hand, can quickly become a very serious issue.
What to do if you get bitten
If you do get bitten by a cat, the first steps are to clean out the wound as thoroughly as you can, using soap and water, and to get checked out by a doctor. “I would recommend that you seek medical care, regardless of whether you feel that you can clean it out,” Calderon says.
If the bite is unusually deep, or extensive, they can help make sure that the wound gets thoroughly cleaned out. They will also start you on antibiotics, to prevent an infection. Whether it’s the local emergency room, an urgent care or your primary care doctor, it’s important to get the doctor, and to get on antibiotics, as soon as you can.
If at any time, the cat bite wound develops redness, swelling, or pain, or you develop a fever, then it’s important to head to the emergency room immediately.
In addition to the risk of infection, cat bites also have some other risks that may require the help of a medical professional. The first major risk is rabies. If the cat’s medical history is unknown, and they ran off after biting, then that may necessitate getting a post-exposure rabies series. Another risk may be cat scratch fever, as getting bitten can sometimes include getting scratched as well.
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