A teenage girl in the Netherlands is a living example of what can happen when humans and Mother Nature collide.
The 17-year-old rescued a kitten from drowning and fell ill shortly thereafter, according to an article published in BMJ Case Reports.
After interacting with the cat, she quickly developed a fever and a large, black open wound on her wrist with painful red bumps all the way up her arm.
The case stumped doctors, who originally prescribed her antibiotics with no success.
Eventually, though, a virologist was able to diagnosed her with cowpox — a rare, viral skin disease that can circulate among animal populations in seasonal cycles, sometimes infecting humans. This diagnosis came two weeks after her initial sickness.
A week later, the necrotic ulcer on her wrist was gone, leaving just a scar. The kitten, however, died the day after its attempted rescue.
Cowpox virus infections in humans are uncommon and are mainly seen in Europe, researchers wrote in the journal article. Typically, infected cats, cows or small rodents pass the virus on to humans through a scratch. In this case, though, the teen accidentally cut her wrist a few hours before picking up the kitten, which is when her medical team believes the transmission occurred.
In the 18th century, this unsightly infection played a major role in the invention of the first-ever vaccine, against the devastating virus that causes smallpox.
“At the end of the 18th century, Edward Jenner, an English physician, observed that milkmaids who had contact with the cattle-carrying cowpox virus rarely contracted smallpox — they seemed protected. Based on this observation, Jenner used the cowpox virus to produce the first smallpox vaccine, in 1796.”