Caturday felid trifecta: Man bitten by stray cat contacts infection new to science; funny cat memes; the inner life of a cat; and lagniappe

August 26, 2023 • 10:00 am

Here’s a story from Science Alert that might make you think twice about petting that stray cat you encounter on the street.  This cat carried some nasty bacteria in its mouth.

A summary:

In the United Kingdom, a 48-year-old who was bit by a stray feline ended up contracting a species of bacterium that scientists have never seen before.

His immune response to the foreign microorganism was a doozy. Just eight hours after receiving multiple bites, the man’s hands had swollen to such a great extent that he took himself to the emergency department.

His puncture wounds were cleaned and dressed and he was given a tetanus shot before being sent on his way with antibiotics.

A day later, he was back at the hospital. His pinky and middle fingers on his left hand were painfully enlarged and both his forearms were red and swollen.

Doctors had to surgically remove the damaged tissue around his wounds. He was also given three different antibiotics intravenously and was sent home with oral antibiotics.

This time, thankfully, the treatment worked and he made a full recovery.

The result of the bite (see the paper here):

(from the site and the journal): The UK man’s infected hand and forearm. A) shows his left little finger, B) his right forearm, C) his right middle finger, and D) his right hand. (Jones et al., Emerging Infectious Diseases, 2023)


Back at the hospital, however, doctors were busy trying to figure out what had happened. When they analyzed the microorganisms present in samples from his wounds, they found an unrecognizable Streptococcus-like organism.

Streptococcus is a genus of gram-positive bacteria that is linked to meningitis, strep throat, bacterial pneumonia, and pink eye, among many other ailments.

But when researchers sequenced part of this bacterium’s genome, it did not match any strains on record. This was a new germ that scientists had never formally documented.

As it turns out, the bacterium belongs to another genus of gram-positive bacteria called Globicatella.

Full genome sequencing of the bacterium suggests that it differs from other related strains, like G. sulfidfaciens, by around 20 percent, indicating a “distinct and previously undescribed species”.

Because G. sulfidifaciens is resistant to several common types of antibiotics, it can prove difficult to eradicate from the body. Thankfully, the new strain discovered in the UK responded well to at least some antibiotics, but the story holds a warning for the public.

“This report highlights the role of cats as reservoirs of as yet undiscovered bacterial species that have human pathogenic potential,” the authors of the case study write.

The lesson:  be wary about petting cats you don’t know.


From Bored Panda we have 50 funny cat photos from an Instagram account. Click to see them all; I’ll show a few.

The source:

The Instagram account @happycat318 does a really good job of capturing [cats’] mischievous ways.

It shares memes about our feline friends being hellbent on world domination, and judging from the content, it’s only a matter of time before they get all the catnip they crave.

And eight examples:

I suspect this cat is Gli, the famous resident cat in Istanbul’s Hagia Sofia. I, too, met Gli, and fed him (see below):

Here’s me feeding Gli in the Hagia Sofia in 2008 (in Turkey I always carry a box of dry cat food in my daypack):


This NYT article reviews a cat book, The Truth About Max, by Alice and Martin Provensen, a previously unpublished book that came out just a few days ago. If the article is paywalled, I found it archived here. I’ve put some illustrations from the NYT in the text; these drawings are courtesy of Alice and Martin Provensen.

An excerpt:

Alice and Martin Provensen were the American picture book’s Ginger and Fred: a supremely poised and stylish illustrator team who, in a collaboration that spanned nearly 40 years and more than 40 children’s books (19 of which they also wrote and edited), beguiled fans with their deadpan wit, far-flung curiosity and midcentury-modernist flair.

“The Truth About Max,” with a big, brassy cat as its protagonist, is a previously unpublished picture book that was discovered in the form of a dummy, or preliminary version, in 2019 among some papers held onto by Alice’s agent George Nicholson, who died in 2015. Martin Provensen had died in 1987; Alice died in 2018.

Over the years, the couple had come to appreciate as individuals many of the animals living in their midst and, in a series of droll, sketchbook-style volumes, had proved themselves to be canny naturalist-observers. In “Our Animal Friends” (1974), the first of these books, they gave the real Max pride of place by depicting him on the title page with burning bright eyes and an ear-to-ear grin. The book they left behind was clearly meant to be the star turn they felt their farm’s arch-rascal had earned.

The Provensens’ love for animals, like Beatrix Potter’s, was pointedly unsentimental. In “The Truth About Max,” the truth they record includes Max’s bad-cat high jinks and his raw knack for survival: his unfailing instinct for knowing who on two legs or four can be trifled with and who is not to be crossed.

The Max we meet is also quite the hunter, with sleeping quarters that resemble a trophy room “full of squirrel tails.” This casual, and shocking, revelation is enough to make young readers feel they are being treated like grown-ups — another Provensen hallmark.

The illustrations vary in their degree of finish, with the occasional figure or face merely roughed in and the backdrop left sketchy for later. A publisher’s note states that the spidery, faux-naïve cursive used for the text is a redo by skilled calligraphers of the artists’ own place-holder hand-lettering.

. . . The unpolished bits tell a truth of their own, exposing traces of the awkward, trial-and-error not-knowing in which creative work so often has its beginnings.

Max was one more kindred spirit. His story ends on another decidedly grown-up note, this one hauntingly beautiful.

Every evening, we learn, Max, having “tired” of the barnyard, “walks down the lane,/ into the fields./ You would not know him./ He looks like a tiger.”

On his own, just what threshold has he crossed? Perhaps the mysterious one that marks the limit of what anyone can know about anyone else. “Now,” write the Provensens, leaving us to imagine the rest, Max’s “real life begins.”

The reviews on the Amazon site (link above) are very good, and this might be a good Christmas stocking stuffer for an ailurophilic child.


Lagniappe: A friendly cat interrupts a BBC reporter. Click on the screenshot to go to the site and see the video. Here are the BBC’s notes:

This is the moment a cat stole the limelight from a BBC reporter during a live broadcast from Manchester.

As Dave Guest was reporting for BBC Breakfast on people being encouraged to transform alleyways into “ginnel gardens”, the feline ran out of nowhere and jumped onto the bench he was sitting on.


h/t: Ginger K., Jez

11 thoughts on “Caturday felid trifecta: Man bitten by stray cat contacts infection new to science; funny cat memes; the inner life of a cat; and lagniappe

  1. A strange cat, wearing a collar but looking unkempt, came and miaowed at my front door until I let it in. Very friendly in terms of rubbing itself against my legs (I’m sure it wasn’t non-binary, but I never had a chance to sex it…) But as soon as I touched the cat with a hand it shredded my arms with its claws. Out it went, but shortly after I developed cat-scratch fever (Bartonella henselae) with a painful pus-filled buboe in my armpit. Being immunosuppressed (CLL) I quickly took a course of antibiotics and thought I’d got better. But a few months later it recrudesced and more antibiotics needed. I’m glad it hasn’t come back since, even when my immunity went straight to hell with a bone marrow transplant, as I have read of AIDS patients having to stay on antibiotics to keep this bloody bug suppressed. Around half of all cats carry Bartonella in their claws, so be very careful.

  2. The Truth About Max sounds like a great book. But isn’t it an example of the verboten “cultural appropriation” to publish such a book? After all, the Provensen’s were people, not cats. (Kidding, of course.)

  3. A great Caturday. Reading the first story really pissed me off. I know the UK hospital system is going to shit, but how is it that they didn’t keep that man in the hospital for observation when he came back? Considering the extent of the infection and that the first round of treatment was so ineffective that he needed to return the next day, how can any doctor send him home hoping that the next treatment regimen will work? That seems wildly irresponsible, but I guess those are the choices they need to make. And if he hadn’t returned the very next day, might he have died? Hell, considering how quickly the infection was spreading/swelling and that the doctors were forced to remove the infected tissue (necrosis?), it seems like he could have lost his hands or even arms to compartment syndrome or necrosis if he wasn’t smart enough to return so soon.

  4. The lesson: be wary about petting cats you don’t know.
    Four or five years ago, a friend of my sister was bitten by one of her own cats, with pretty similar results – she even ended up in hospital for a few nights. This was in the US, so very costly!

  5. I got necrotizing fasiitis in an arm 22 years ago. In my case it was strep A. Where I got it is unknown, origin on the elbow. Just before surgery I was septic with BP 40/30, with a pulse only obtainable on my calf. Like the described case here, I went to ER the night before. They took fluid from the swollen elbow to go to the lab, gave me oral antibiotics and released me. (one doctor who looked at it said it looked like bursitis) Took the AB and went to bed, and upon wakening, my whole arm was double the normal size. Couldn’t eat on account of nausea. Went to an urgent care place, and they sent for an ambulance. Could barely walk. Arrived at the same ER, and the same doctor that took the fluid was at the front desk, and when he saw me being rolled in on a stretcher,our eyes met and it looked like his eyes were going to fly out of the sockets. End tale is 3 debridement surgeries, (on a Versed drip for 3 days) another to close up the wounds as much as possible, another for skin grafts, and 3 more to gradually remove the skin grafts as stretching of the skin allowed. I made a full recovery, but it was the most traumatic experience of my life. Surgeon said another 24 hours without treatment would have been loss of the arm or death. Don’t mess with infections!

    1. So sorry for your terrible experience. Although this has nothing to do with cats, I echo your final sentence.

      About a year ago, my eldest daughter’s husband had what he thought would be a routine operation on a minor squamous cell carcinoma on his hand. In the aftermath, he developed symptoms much like those you describe, went to A&E, and ended up having to endure several operations to excise the dead flesh, repair the damage, and undergo skin grafts, additional procedures to mend the ligaments on his hand and halfway up his arm, and so on.

      He’s OK now; but his consultant told him that a couple of hours later could have been too late. As you say: don’t mess with infections!

  6. In the United Kingdom, a 48-year-old who was bit by a stray feline ended up contracting a species of bacterium that scientists have never seen before.

    I’m guessing this happened in the early afternoon. After all, to paraphrase Noel Coward, people the world over know that only mad cats and Englishmen go out in the midday sun.

    That this happened in the UK itself, I take to be a clear indicator of encroaching climate change.

  7. Hello Dr Coyne,

    I have been reading your blog for a while now, don’t think I have commented before but since you have at times touched upon EES and related topics, there is this paper that just came out that you may find of interest: “Mutation and Selection Induce Correlations between Selection Coefficients and Mutation Rates” by Gitschlag et al (2023) -unsure if I should post links here-.

    Seems to be arguing that at least in theory, the rate or probability of a mutation is rather uncorrelated with fitness effect but there is some correlation of the same in a natural population. Also, mutations being random depends on how they are counted (which seems reasonable to me, albeit not my specialization).

    As the lead author put it “The mutation-selection process itself can induce paradoxical correlations between mutation rate & fitness effect in cases where no such correlation exists in possibility-space.”

    Any opinion or feedback on this would be much appreciated.

    1. You’d have to give me a link (it’s okay to put one in a comment but it may be held up if there are two or more) or a title. If I have time to read the paper, I will see what I make of it.

Leave a Reply