DOCTOR'S VIEW ARCHIVE

Cat, Dog and Other Bites

Cat and dog bites carry many serious infections (some of which are not looked for in routine laboratory tests). That is according to a report on January 14, 1999 in The New England Journal of Medicine by David Talan of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and the Emergency Medicine Animal Bite Infection Study Group.

In a prospective (forward-looking) study involving 18 emergency departments, patients were enrolled who met stringent criteria for infection from a bite wound.

Specimens from their wounds were tested for bacteria at a research microbiology laboratory and, in some cases, at local hospital laboratories. The culture tests were designed to detect both aerobic bacteria (that grow in the presence of oxygen) and anaerobic bacteria (that require an atmosphere low or lacking in oxygen).

Dr. Talan and his coworkers "exquisitely documented the microbiologic makeup" of cat and dog bites. The most common infectious agents they detected belonged to the Pasteurella family of bacteria which are associated with infections having a rapid onset. Other bacteria encountered included staphylococci (staph) and streptococci (strep). Staph aureus was present in 20% of dog bites and 4% of cat bites, and Strep pyogenes was present in 12% and 0% of dog and cat bites, respectively. A host of other bacterial causes of disease, including some never before detected in cat or dog bite wounds, rounded out the list.

"Animals can inflict serious, even fatal, injuries by biting. Each year attacks by dogs cause 10 to 20 deaths in the United States, predominantly among children," noted Dr. Gary R. Fleisher in an editorial accompanying the report in The New England Journal.