UK man bitten by cat contracts previously unknown and ‘extensive’ bacterial infection

London: A 48-year-old UK man bitten by a stray cat developed “painful” hand swelling and “extensive” infection caused by a previously unknown bacterium, a new study has revealed.

The research, published recently in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, describes the case of a 48-year-old obese man, who was admitted to the emergency department in 2020 with hand swelling, multiple puncture wounds and abrasions, about eight hours after sustaining bites from a feral cat.

Researchers, including those from Cambridge University Hospitals in the UK, discovered a novel species of the bacterium Globicatella that caused “extensive soft tissue infection” in the man bitten by the cat.

Previous research has shed light on the potential role of cats as reservoirs of yet-undiscovered pathogens and potential zoonotic infections that can jump from animals to humans as their long, sharp teeth can cause deep bite injuries.

While the man was treated for potential infection, administered a booster dose of the tetanus vaccine, given a number of oral antibiotics and discharged, he returned to the emergency department 24 hours later with an infection in his left little and right middle fingers.

Doctors then surgically removed the damaged tissue around his wounds and gave him three other antibiotics intravenously – a treatment that ultimately seemed to work and led to a recovery.

When researchers analysed the swabs from his infection in the right middle finger for microorganisms, they found an unrecognisable organism similar to Streptococcus – a bacteria linked to strep throat, pink eye and meningitis.

However, the bacterium’s genome did not match any strains previously on record, indicating it was a new microbe that has never been previously documented.

Researchers then found the new bacterium belonged to a genus of gram-positive bacteria called Globicatella that differs from related strains, suggesting it is a “distinct and previously undescribed species”.

Experts noted that cats have the potential to cause deep-tissue bite injuries, with the direct inoculation of their saliva posing high risk of secondary infection.

People are advised to immediately wash wounds from cat bites with soap or salt and see a doctor right away.

The new findings, according to clinicians, “highlights the role of cats as reservoirs of as yet undiscovered bacterial species that have human pathogenic potential”.