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10 at 10: Susan Perry on the mysteriously enduring popularity of a story on cat bites

story on cat bites
MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson
Cats' sharp teeth make relatively deep puncture wounds that are prone to infection.

To mark MinnPost’s 10th anniversary, our writers and editors have dug into the archives to highlight stories that have stuck with them over the years, a series we’re calling MinnPost 10 at 10.

Today, we hear from Susan Perry, who writes the consumer health column Second Opinion, about a story that continues to draw many (many, many) readers — almost four years after it was first published. 

In April 2016, I received an email from a woman living in rural Indiana. She wrote to tell me that an article I had written had helped save her from undergoing major hand surgery — and possibly losing some of the use of her hand. Her story went like this:

She had been bitten on the knuckle while playing with a cat. It had been a playful bite, but was strong enough to break the skin.

“I washed it and put on a band aid and forgot about it,” the woman wrote. “[But] before I went to bed I read your article about cat bites. I was truly surprised this was serious. I hadn’t planned to do anything about the bite.”

The next morning, after finding out that her own doctor was out of town, the woman drove herself to a hospital emergency department some miles away. She does not say what her symptoms were at that point, but they were certainly serious, for she was immediately admitted to the hospital and put on intravenous antibiotics.

“The doctor said I could lose my hand,” the woman recalled.

She remained in the hospital for two days, and took oral antibiotics for another 10 days.

“[If] I hadn’t read your article when I did, I would have had a longer hospital stay, possible surgery,” the woman wrote in her email. “But now I have my hand which works perfectly.”

The article that the woman referred to is one I had written more than two years before, in February 2014. It describes a Mayo Clinic study on cat bites to the hand, which can cause difficult-to-treat bacterial infections. I write about 250 consumer health articles a year for MinnPost’s Second Opinion column, so I had to go back and refresh my memory about that particular one.

But when I forwarded the woman's email to my editor, Susan Albright, she knew the article right away. It turns out that it's the second-most-read piece in MinnPost’s 10-year history, with more than 370,000 pageviews. (For those wondering: the most-read MinnPost story is one of Eric Black’s essays on the Electoral College.)

It’s quite likely, of course, that the Indiana woman would have read another article on the Mayo Clinic study if she hadn’t seen mine. Still, her email is a reminder of the impact that evidence-based health journalism can have on people’s lives. It’s also a humbling reminder to me of what a great responsibility it is to write a consumer health column. And it’s further proof — as if we need it — that cats rule the internet. 

MinnPost 10 at 10

Susan Perry has written Second Opinion since MinnPost's launch. She is the author of several health-related books, and her articles have appeared in a wide variety of publications, including Minnesota Monthly and several University of Minnesota magazines. She is a former writer/editor for Time-Life Books and a former editor of Nutrition Action Healthletter, published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest. She also teaches writing at Metro State University.

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