While a cat bite to the hand may not seem like a huge deal, a new study reveals that one in three people who are bitten on the hand by a feline end up having to go to the hospital.
And two-thirds of people who were hospitalized for a cat bite to the hand ended up needing to have surgery, Mayo Clinic researchers found.
Cat bites are dangerous because they have fangs that penetrate more deeply into flesh than, say, a dog's blunter teeth -- which is a bad thing considering the risk for infection.
"They can send bacteria in the joint and tendon sheaths," study researcher Dr. Brian Carlsen, M.D., a plastic surgeon and orthopedic hand surgeon at the Mayo Clinic, said in a statement. "It can be just a pinpoint bite mark that can cause a real problem, 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 study, published in the Journal of Hand Surgery, included 193 patients of the Mayo Clinic who were bitten on the hand by a cat between 2009 and 2011. Sixty-nine percent of the patients who sought treatment for a cat bite were women, with an average age of 49.
Fifty-seven patients had to be hospitalized (for an average of three days), and 38 of the hospitalized patients had to undergo surgical irrigation, removal of infected tissue (debridement), or flushing out of their wounds.
Hospitalization risk was higher if a patient was bitten directly over the wrist or another joint, compared with being bitten over soft tissue.
Oral antibiotics were prescribed to 154 of the 193 patients, while 36 of the 193 patients were hospitalized right away upon seeking care. However, among those receiving the outpatient care, the antibiotics failed in 21 people and they ended up having to be hospitalized.