Thursday, January 14, 1999 Published at 18:49 GMT
When a dog's bite is worse than its bark
Scientists found bacteria not found in humans before
Many people may be getting the wrong treatment for dog and cat bites which can cause infection and, in a handful of cases, death, according to scientists.
American researchers have discovered that bite wounds from cats and dogs contain more bacteria than originally thought and some that had not previously been believed to cause infection in humans.
They studied samples from people attending emergency units in 18 hospitals.
Those studied in a reference laboratory showed significantly more bacteria than samples taken to local laboratories.
About 20% were treated with penicillin-type drugs which the scientists say may not be effective in killing the bacteria.
The bacteria identified include common bugs, such as pasteurella, which is present in 50% of dog bites and 75% of cat bites.
Those not previously found in humans include Reimerella anatipetifer present in cats and Bacteroides tectum found in cat and dog bites.
Fever and abscess
Writing in the New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers, led by Dr David Talan of the UCLA School of Medicine in California, conclude: "Infected dog and cat bites have a complex microbiologic mix that usually includes pasterurella species, but may also include many other organisms not routinely identified by clinical microbiology laboratories and not previously recognised as bite-wound pathogens."
In the USA, around 300,000 Americans a year attend casualty departments because of animal bites.
The majority of bites are from dogs, although cat bites are at least four times as likely to cause infection as dog bites.
About 10,000 require hospital treatment as a result. Some 20 people a year die because of the infections they develop, most of them children.
Health officials advise anyone bitten by a dog to seek medical attention and to take a description of the dog, in case of rabies.