An unlucky kitten bite appears to have led to a Danish man’s death four years later. He reportedly contracted a serious infection following the bite that hospitalized him for a month, caused the amputation of his finger, and left him in ever-declining health. The man’s family disclosed his recent death in hopes of raising awareness that cat bites should always be taken seriously.
As initially reported by the Daily Mail, Henrik Kriegbaum Plettner had adopted a cat and her kittens from a shelter in 2018. While moving one of the kittens, it bit him on his index finger. Plettner didn’t think to seek medical attention until a few hours later, when his hand had swelled to twice its size. He then called a doctor but was told to wait until the next day. Eventually, he ended up at the Kolding Hospital in Denmark.
Plettner remained in the hospital for a month, where he underwent 15 operations. Though he seemed to recover somewhat, the operations failed to restore proper functioning to his finger, and four months later, doctors decided to amputate the finger entirely. Plettner would reportedly continue to struggle with health problems, however, such as gout, diabetes, pneumonia, and a weakened immune system. In October 2022, the 33-year-old Plettner died.
“We knew that he was doing badly. However, we had no idea that he was so seriously ill,” said Plettner’s widow, identified only as Desirée by the Daily Mail.
Cat bites and scratches pose a serious disease risk, especially if they deeply puncture the skin. The small holes created by the injury can sometimes quickly seal up, trapping troublesome germs inside, and the cat’s sharp teeth or claws can provide an easy way for these germs to reach the bloodstream, where they can then spread throughout the body and cause a major infection. This chain of events appears to be what happened to Plettner, according to his family.
Cats and dogs can carry many microbes that can be transmitted to people via a bite or scratch. These include Capnocytophaga bacteria, Bartonella henselae (the germ that causes cat scratch disease), and Pasteurella multocida, the latter of which is considered a major source of potentially dangerous hand infections caused by domestic pet bites. Cats have also been known to spread less common germs like plague. These infections will usually cause only mild illness, but severe complications can occur to anyone. Severe infections are more likely to happen in people who have weakened immune systems or other health conditions.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, people bitten by a cat should immediately wash their wounds with running water and soap but avoid scrubbing too hard, since that could harm the surrounding tissue. They should put pressure on the wound to stop any bleeding, apply antibiotic cream if available, and cover the wound with a sterile bandage. And they should see a physician as soon as they can, within hours if possible.
That last bit of advice is a lesson that Plettner’s family hopes others will be able to take away from his tragic passing.
“Go to the doctor after a bite, don’t think, ‘Oh, that’s just a cat,’” his widow said.