Cat scratches can exceptionally rarely cause a serious illness by allowing Group A streptococci bacteria on the skin to enter the bloodstream.
Countless millions of people, brilliant cat guardians to ailurophobes, have been scratched by domestic cats without anything to concern them except for slight discomfort and a bit of blood. I have always considered cat scratches as a passing minor hazard in caring for a cat.
Yet, just occasionally and very, very rarely a story pops up of a cat scratch that reminds us that cat owners should be a least aware of the potential dangers of cat scratches going bad and to be vigilant as to that possibility.
Shirley Hair and Chan
This story concerns a woman, 65-year-old Shirley Hair, who appears to have had a fractious relationship with her flame point Siamese cat, a purebred named Chan. A nice looking cat. She had bought him as a kitten.
She considered him ‘spiteful’. I am not pleased to hear that because when I do I think of why should this cat be spiteful to his owner. Maybe he was genuinely spiteful but I don’t think so. Perhaps he was poorly socialised by the breeder from whom she bought Chan. He was also nervous and became ‘savage’. This was a poor relationship.
Chan scratched her and she thought nothing of it until it became infected. Shirley said that:
“I tried to pick him up for a cuddle but he wasn’t having it.”
Moral – don’t try and do something with your cat that she/her does not want to do. They lead. They decide. Not all cats like to be picked up and cuddled. In fact a high percentage of cats feel a little unsure about being picked up and cuddled.
She felt as if she had the flu and lost her appetite. Comment: I sense that she was not vigilant as I have stated above. She waited too long and the infection took hold.
Her arm looked infected and then she was diagnosed with sepsis, septic shock and organ failure. She also contracted the flesh-eating disease necrotizing fasciitis.
It had become life-threatening and she was admitted to hospital and placed in a coma. She spent 5 days in a coma. She had surgery and eventually and thankfully recovered. But she was almost a month in intensive care. It looks like it was touch and go at one time.
So what caused this terrible reaction? The report by the Scotsman.com online newspaper does not tell us. My research does tell me however that it might have been a streptococcal infection. Necrotising fasciitis is commonly caused by group A Streptococcus (GAS) bacteria (webmd.com). The bacteria is not necessary carried on the claws but the scratch opens the skin to allow the bacteria to infect the body. In fact, this bacteria is commonly found on the the skin of people and in the throat.
Necrotising fasciitis can start with a minor cut and it need not be a cat scratch. It can be caused by several different bacteria. It can start with insect bites and surgical wounds for example and as is evident in Shirley’s story by a cat scratch.
Sources: As stated and New York State Dept of Health.