A recent report in the Medical Journal of Australia described the case of a woman who was pecked in the leg by her daughter’s pet magpie. The woman was otherwise healthy (i.e. she did not have a compromised immune system), but the wound became infected by the fungus Saksenaea vasiformis, which rarely causes disease in people or animals. The infection became so severe that the woman’s leg had to be amputated.

Saksenaea vasiformis can be found in soil all over the world. There are a few possible routes by which the fungus may have infected the woman’s leg in this case. The fungus could have been on the person’s skin, and been carried into the deeper tissues by the pecking. It also could have been on the bird’s beak. Alternatively, it could have contaminated the wound after the pecking, through contact with soil or dirty hands.

This is an example of an infection that would be difficult to anticipate, since it occurred in a healthy person as a result of contact with a healthy bird, and with minor trauma, but potentially could have been avoided. Although the bird may not have been the source of the fungus, the break in the protective barrier of the skin was the critical event. Basic wound care is always important, and any injury from an animal should be taken seriously and properly addressed. Wounds should be carefully cleaned and monitored for signs of infection.  A physician should be consulted as soon as possible if there are any concerns.  A physician should always be consulted for any wound that is:

  • on the hands
  • over a joint
  • over a tendon (e.g. wrist, ankle)
  • in the genital area
  • over a prosthetic device
  • sustained by a person with a compromised immune system (e.g. HIV/AIDS, transplant or cancer patient)

More information on bites can be found in the Cat Bites information sheet on the Worms & Germs Resources page).  It’s unclear whether any of these precautions would have prevented the serious fungal infection that occured in this case, but these measures can reduce the risks of infection.