Matt Bowerman / USA Today
A cat bite on the hand can turn into a hospital stay, according to a new study.
A recent Mayo Clinic study shows that one out of three people end up in the hospital following a cat bite. Published in February in the Journal of Hand Surgery the study looked at 193 patients who received treatment for a cat bite on the hand from January 2009 through 2011. Of those two-thirds required surgery to flush out the infection in the wounds and middle-aged women were the most common bite victims.
Brian Carlsen, a researcher on the study and orthopedic surgeon at Mayo Clinic, said cat's fangs penetrate the skin and push bacteria deep into joints and tissue, causing infection. He said people tend to ignore cat bites because they are so small, but they can lead to a laundry list of medical treatments.
"The bites lead to serious infections that can require multiple hospitalizations, antibiotics and sometimes surgery," Carlsen said.
Just how bad can a cat bite be?
Dawn Bothun, of Minnesota said a bite on her hand turned into an eight-week hospital ordeal and $150,000 in medical bills.
Bothun said she waited one week after her black cat, Mr. Binks, bit her hand to go to Saint Mary's Hospital, part of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
"I washed the wounds on my wrist and put antiseptic on them," Bothun said. "I thought I could manage them on my own but I couldn't move my wrist after a week."
She said what followed was eight weeks in and out of the hospital, two weeks of surgery every other day to flush the infection out of the wound and remove infected tissue, and antibiotics to treat the rampant infection.
"The infection from the cat bite reached my tendon," Bothun said. "Every time they would stitch me up after flushing the wound the infection would just get worse. The pain almost drove me up the wall."
According to the study patients with bites directly over the wrist or any joint have a higher risk of hospitalization. Carlsen said the study showed the hand and wrist are the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, making outpatient antibiotic treatment hard. The study showed that administering antibiotics failed in 21 of the 193 patients, who later received treatment in the hospital.
"A bite on the thigh probably isn't an issue because the cat probably just bites the fat," Carlsen said. "When the cat bites the hand, the joints and tendons are protected with fluid and there is no circulation so bacteria can grow like crazy, making treatment longer in some case."
Bothun said she still feels pain in her wrist and does not have full movement. She said because she was uninsured the hospital wrote off some of the bill but she is still making payments.
As for Mr. Bink's, she said they are still on good terms, but things have changed.
"We don't play like we used to," Bothun said. "When my grandkids come over I don't let him around them, because things happen."
Carlsen said the lesson is that people need to be careful of cat bites and monitor them for swelling and redness.
"It may look like a pin prick, but rule of thumb go see a doctor if a cat bites your hand," Carlsen said.