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Cat bite on the hand can be catastophic, says Mayo Clinic

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A bite from a pet cat is nothing to fool around with, according to a new study by the Mayo Clinic.

USA Today published a story on the research, which shows that one third of those who sought medical treatment for a cat bite to the hand had to be hospitalized. The study looked at 193 patients who were treated following a cat bite on the hand. Two thirds of those hospitalized required surgery to flush out the infection in the wounds.

Brian Carlsen, an orthopedic surgeon at Rochester's Mayo Clinic, published the findings in the February edition of the Journal of Hand Surgery. He said the dangerous infections are caused when a cat's fangs penetrate the skin and push bacteria deep into joints and tissue. He said pet owners often ignore cat bites.

The Mayo study was picked up by The Independent in the United Kingdom, which indulged in the single-cat-lady image in its lead paragraph. "The lonely spinster surrounded by cats is a long-held stereotype – but it turns out there may be some truth to the label," the story reads. "Middle-aged women are the group most at risk of being injured by a feline biting them on the hand, research has shown. Sixty-nine per cent of people who require treatment for cat bites are female and the average age is 49."

USA Today's story focused on Minnesotan Dawn Bothun, who said a bite on her hand from her pet cat Mr. Binks turned into an eight-week hospital ordeal and multiple surgeries that racked up $150,000 in medical bills. Bothun waited a week after the bite before seeking medical care at Saint Mary's Hospital, which is part of the Mayo Clinic.

"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."

Carlsen said cat bites on other parts of the body are typically not as dangerous; the study showed the hand and wrist are the perfect breeding ground for bacteria. Carlsen said the research is a reminder for cat owners to be careful of cat bites, even those that look like pin pricks, and monitor them for swelling and redness.

Dog owners have less to fear. Dogs' teeth are blunter, so they don't penetrate as deeply and they tend to leave a larger wound after they bite.

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