OWATONNA — After several deep cat bites to his hands, Per Kvalsten spent five nights in the hospital to treat blood poisoning.
Local veterinarians say that infections caused by cat bites are more common than people realize.
The Kvalstens were certainly surprised that the cat bites could have taken Per’s life had he not sought medical attention. In fact, doctors told him it was a matter of days.
By way of full disclosure, Per Kvalsten is an advertising representative for the Owatonna People’s Press.
The incident began when Kvalsten’s family housecat, appeared back in their yard on Thursday, May 19, two days after it had gone missing.
“It was kind of clear when we saw him that he was afraid and out of sorts,” said Per’s wife Andrea. “We thought we’d never see him again.”
Upon being approached by Per and his wife Andrea, the cat scattered out from an outdoor stairway. Per then dove to grab the cat with his hands. The cat immediately went into defense mode and began to hiss, scratch and bite.
“He went nuts basically. Biting, scratching, and not holding back. I have never seen him like that,” said Per. “It was clear that he was scared and that I provoked him by grabbing him.”
Despite the persistent bites and clawing, Per proceeded to carry the defensive cat toward the house and finally threw him in the house.
“When you have the cat that is considered a part of the family and you never thought you’d see him again, you don’t let go,” said Per.
Both of Per’s hands and wrists were in rough shape, with several severe scratches and six deep puncture wounds. According to Andrea, Per’s hands began to swell, redden, and were warm to the touch. Per was in a lot of pain and was running a fever.
He went to urgent care on the morning of the incident. The doctor apparently told them to expect the pain to get worse, which it did.
“The next morning, his hands were super swollen, super red, warm, and really gross looking,” said Andrea. “It wasn’t until he went to work on Friday morning, and one of the ladies thought it looked like he had blood poisoning.”
Andrea and Per went back to urgent care on Friday morning to get a booster for the antibiotics, but they were later notified that Per was being admitted to the hospital for what turned out to be a five-night stay to treat blood poisoning.
Blood poisoning occurs when bacteria causing infection enters the bloodstream.
In Per’s case, the infection was caused by bacteria transmitted by a cat bite.
Local veterinarians said that this is not uncommon.
Dr. Tami Bauer of Owatonna Vet Hospital and Dr. Stephen Krumm of Owatonna Vet Services warned that all animal saliva carries bacteria that could be infectious, but the structure of the cat’s sharp, needle-like teeth can insert the bacteria further into skin.
“Every cat has bacteria in its mouth. Every animal — every human — has bacteria in their mouth,” said Bauer. “You could get an infection from the bacteria in a dog’s mouth too, but that typically just kind of presses skin down, whereas the cat’s teeth can easily puncture deep in to the skin.”
Krumm compared cat teeth to hypodermic needles.
He said that the impact of a cat bite on human flesh is also unique in that the bacteria transmitted is “sealed into the wound as tissue heals around it.”
In Per’s case, there were several pockets of infection discovered, which are now being treated by antibiotics.
A study by Dr. Nikola Babovic, Dr. Cenk Cayci, and Dr. Brian Carlsen of Mayo Clinic in Rochester called “Cat Bite Infections of the Hand: Assessment of Morbidity and Predictors of Severe Infection” indicated that 30 percent of patients with cat bites to the hand were hospitalized for an average stay of 3.2 days.
In the three-year window that the study was conducted (Jan. 1, 2009, to Dec. 31, 2011), 193 patients were treated for cat bites to the hand at Mayo Clinic in Rochester.
The location of a cat bite to the hand has proven more dangerous because it is an area with more tendons, joints and bone, according to the study.
“There is so little place for swelling in the hand without causing more pressure and pain,” said Krumm.
While the study on cat bites states that there are no widely accepted treatments, “options include observation alone, outpatient oral antibiotics, hospitalization for intravenous antibiotics, and if indicated, surgical irrigation and debridement.”
Per and Andrea have learned a lot through this process.
“We had no clue that cat bites could cause all of this,” said Andrea. “We’ve been researching, and it is just so creepy.”
After several tests were taken, Per was released from the hospital Wednesday morning with oral antibiotics to continue. He is encouraged to rest and keep a very close eye on his bite and scratch wounds.
As for their cat, Mauer, life is back to normal in the Kvalsten household.
“He was just provoked by me grabbing at him,” said Per. “He was back to normal within a couple hours of being back in the house.”
Both Krumm and Bauer encourage people to be careful while handling animals.
Krumm also encourages pets to be kept indoors to avoid ingestion of unknown and strange bacteria. Plus, there is much less risk of contracting rabies from an indoor pet, says Krumm.
“If you get bit, wash your hands really well, right away,” said Krumm. “I think people underestimate the power of soap and water.”