Bacterial organisms from the Pasteurella species live in the mouths of most cats, as well as a significant number of dogs and other animals. If your child is bitten or scratched by an animal that carries Pasteurella organisms such as Pasteurella multocida, these bacteria can enter the body through the break in the skin. They most often cause a potentially serious infection of the skin called cellulitis. On occasion, these bacteria can be spread to humans from an animal’s saliva or nose mucus.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms of cellulitis usually begin after a very short incubation period, typically within 24 hours after your child has been bitten or scratched. He may develop swelling, redness, warmth, and tenderness of the skin, sometimes with discharge of pus. In some children, lymph nodes in the area of the infected skin may become enlarged and chills and fever can occur. Complications may be present in some children, including an infection of the joints (arthritis), bones (osteomyelitis), and tendons (tenosynovitis). Less frequently, youngsters may have pneumonia, urinary tract infections, meningitis, blood infections (septicemia), or eye infections.
What You Can Do
If your child is bitten or scratched by an animal, wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water.
When To Call Your Pediatrician
If your child is bitten or scratched by a pet, wild animal, or any animal unknown to you, call your pediatrician for advice after promptly washing the wound. Also contact your doctor if you notice that an area of your child’s skin has become red, warm, and tender.
How Is the Diagnosis Made?
Your pediatrician will examine the area of your child’s skin that has been bitten or scratched. The doctor can order tests such as cultures and smears of the drainage from the wound to help identify the infectious organism.
Your pediatrician will prescribe antibacterial treatment as soon as cellulitis is found. In most cases, children are treated with oral amoxicillin clavulanate because the exact cause of the cellulitis may not be known. If a culture shows the infection is caused by Pasteurella, oral penicillin can be used. Most infections require a 7- to 10-day dose of antibacterials, occasionally longer. Your pediatrician also may drain and clean the wound. If your child is very ill, the infection involves the hands, or it is spreading rapidly, your pediatrician will suggest hospital admission and use of intravenous antibacterials. Intravenous antibacterials are used for infections involving the blood, bone, joints, and brain.
Following an animal bite, especially one involving the hands, your doctor may prescribe a preventive antibacterial medicine to stop an infection from occurring. The pediatrician will make sure that your child has been protected with tetanus vaccine and the doctor will decide if there is any risk for rabies.
What Is the Prognosis?
When appropriately treated with antibacterials, Pasteurella-related cellulitis usually clears up in about a week. Make sure your child takes the complete course of antibacterials, even if symptoms go away before all the pills are gone.
- Pets should not be allowed to lick very young infants.
- Teach your child not to approach or touch unfamiliar pets or wild animals and never disturb an animal that is eating.