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It is unknown exactly how many people are bitten by cats each year because most cat bites are not reported. However, it is estimated that 5 to 15 percent of all animal bites that occur each year in the United States are from cats. Cat teeth are sharp and pointed which typically lead to lacerations and puncture wounds that allow bacteria to make its way into deep tissues. A cat bite is more likely to lead to an infection than a dog bite. Those who are bitten by cats should be aware of the cat bite infection symptoms because these infections can be very serious if left untreated.
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Types of Infections
There are certain types of bacteria associated with cat bites. These include:
- Pasteurella species
- Streptococcus species
- Actinomyces species
- Staphylococcus species
- Propionibacterium species
- Peptostreptococcus species
- Bacteroides species
- Wolinella species
- Clostridium species
- Fusobacterium species
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Cat bite infection symptoms that affect the wound include warmth around the wound, redness around the wound, swelling, pus discharge, and pain. As the infection progresses, patients may experience fever, low body temperature, fast heartbeat, low blood pressure, fatigue, and headache.
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To begin diagnosing an infection due to a cat bite, the doctor will first ask the patient about their current and past medical history. They will also ask the patient about any medications they may be taking and if they have had any surgeries. They will ask how and when the bite occurred. The wound will be closely inspected and certain diagnostic tests will be done.
Patients may need to have blood tests. This will allow doctors to analyze whether an infection is present or not. They will primarily be looking to see if the patient's white blood cell count is elevated and will be looking for the presence of the types of bacteria associated with a cat bite.
Imaging studies, such as x-rays, magnetic resonance imaging, computer tomography, or bone scans may be done. These are done to see if there are any foreign objects in the wound, to look for broken bones, and to better analyze the injury.
Wound culture and sampling involves taking a small piece of tissue or fluid from the wound and sending it to be tested at a laboratory. This is done to help determine what type of infection the patient has so that they can be prescribed the correct medication to treat it.
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The type of treatment used will depend on how severe the infection is and how severe the wound is. First, the bite will be cleaned with sterile water and germ-killing solutions. Debridement may also be done to clean and remove dirt, tissues, objects, and dead skin from the bite wound. The bite wound may then be dressed with wet or dry dressings, or sometimes both. Patients will then be prescribed antibiotic medications to help fight the infection. If the patient is experiencing swelling, pain, or fever, they may also be prescribed medications to help alleviate these symptoms as well.
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Rhode Island Department of Health (2010). Animal Bites and Rabies. Retrieved on February 13, 2010 from the Rhode Island Department of Health: http://www.health.ri.gov/disease/communicable/rabies/faq.php#signs
PDRhealth. (2009). Wound Infections. Retrieved on February 13, 2010 from PDRhealth: http://www.pdrhealth.com/disease/disease-mono.aspx?contentFileName=ND0749G.xml&contentName=Wound+Infection&contentId=1243&TypeId=2
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Kitten Biting Playfully: Aravindan Shanmugasundaram – Wikimedia Commons