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Deadly Scratch

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"I told him it was just a flesh wound, a wee scratch, but the next time I looked at him, poor Tadhg was dead and gone."
— Flavor text for Venom, Magic: The Gathering

Any seemingly-minor injury that, due to circumstance, puts a character in danger disproportionate to the amount of physical trauma involved.

This is often due to factors such as poison or disease. A superficial scratch or cut by itself poses little threat to a healthy adult human, but if that scratch was made by a poisoned dagger, or a venomous fang or stinger, or that cut isn't properly treated and becomes infected or gangrenous, suddenly it becomes a lot more of a problem. (And God help you if that scratch or cut came from a Plague Zombie or some other carrier of The Virus.) Besides that, if a character with an untreated injury gets into a fight, there's a risk of that injury providing a painful distraction at a critical moment or becoming aggravated into something much more serious. An untreated injury may also leave a Trail of Blood that ruins a character's ability to hide or otherwise attracts some dangerous creature. This isn't limited to flesh-and-blood characters, either: a seemingly-trivial hit to a Humongous Mecha or Cool Ship could cause just enough damage to start interfering with important systems, ultimately leading to a chain reaction that dooms the entire machine.

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Note, however, that while the characters may not realize how important this injury is, the story absolutely does; expect the camera to linger on that shallow cut, or the narration to go out of its way to describe how the character was just barely grazed by an attack, to clue in the audience that this "inconsequential" injury is anything but.

Compare Attack the Injury (where an injury is dangerous because it creates a weakness in a character's defense), Game-Breaking Injury (where an injury is dangerous because it impedes a character's performance at a critical moment), and Twisted Ankle (where an injury is dangerous because it prevents a character from fleeing danger). Similar to Untouchable Until Tagged, in which the first time a character is actually wounded, they'll start to lose the rest of the fight. Contrast Major Injury Underreaction (where a truly traumatic injury is treated as inconsequential) and Minor Injury Overreaction (where a truly inconsequential injury is treated as traumatic).

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Since this is often a Death Trope, and generally has a major impact on the story even when it isn't, expect unmarked spoilers ahead.


Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Gundam: In episode 8 of Mobile Suit Gundam 0083: Stardust Memory, South Burning of the Earth Federation gets into a skirmish with Zeon's Cima Garahau, sustaining minor damage to his GM Custom in the process. Unfortunately, said "minor damage" includes sparking wiring and a slowly-leaking fuel cell, which eventually causes the mobile suit to explode without warning while Burning is still inside it — tragically, right before he's able to reveal the details of Zeon's Operation Stardust to his EFF comrades.
  • In the first episode of Japan Sinks: 2020, Ayumu gets a small cut on her leg as she escapes from the wrecked locker room. She never gets this cut treated, and over the course of the series, we see it get more and more infected until she's ultimately forced to get the leg amputated in the final episode.
  • Naruto:
    • The villainous Marionette Master, Sasori, coats all of his weapons (and the weapons of his puppets) with a deadly venom that kills within minutes from even a light scratch. His grandmother, Chiyo, manages to develop an antidote with Sakura's help, but they can only make a limited amount of doses before the battle against Sasori himself. Near the end of the battle, both Chiyo and Sakura manage to get wounded with only one dose of the anti-venom remaining, forcing Chiyo to use it on Sakura and doom herself.
    • During the battle between Team 10 and the Akatsuki member Hidan, Hidan is able to wound the team leader Asuma Sarutobi with his scythe. The injury is minor, but it allows Hidan to consume Asuma's blood by Licking the Blade — the first step in an unnecessarily complex blood magic ritual that ultimately ends in Asuma's death.
    • In the climactic battle of the "Power" arc, Action Girl Shiseru is caught in the collateral damage from one of the Naruto clone's attacks and gets a dislocated shoulder. This is a bad enough problem for someone caught in the middle of a battle between two super-powered ninja-turned-monsters, but it becomes more immediately dangerous a few moments later when the ground collapses, Shiseru ends up dangling off the edge of a cliff, and she can't use the bad arm to help pull herself up.
  • One Piece:
    • During the Little Garden arc, Nami is stung by a mosquito while traversing the jungle. She writes it off as a minor bug bite, but the beginning of the following arc has her suddenly develop a nasty fever that none of the crew know how to treat, forcing them to detour to an island called Drum Island. When they get her to the doctor, Kureha, she reveals that the bite actually came from a prehistoric mosquito (Little Garden is kinda behind the times being filled with dinosaurs) and Nami would've been dead within a week if they had waited any longer.
    • During his final battle with Crocodile at the climax of the Alabasta arc, Luffy ends up scratched by his poison hook filled with scorpion venom. While it does affect him, Luffy manages to power through to finally defeat Crocodile, only afterwards nearly dying from the poison. Luckily, Nico Robin managed to swipe the antidote off of Crocodile and give it to King Nefertari Cobra to administer it to Luffy.
    • During the Fishman Island arc, Luffy gets nicked by Hyouzou, an octopus Fishman that secretes deadly poison, while fending him and his fellow cronies off. The Fishman thinks Luffy will die from it after being chased off, but luckily Luffy had developed Acquired Poison Immunity by this point (largely due to barely surviving being coated in poison by an opponent way prior to this arc), so it ended up saving him as Chopper explains while examining him.
  • Yona of the Dawn: Discussed. After Yona retrieves the Senjuso herbs, Hak finds her trying to remove the thorns with a needle, but only succeeding in scratching up her hands. He asks if she put the needle through a fire to sterilize it, but when Yona replies she didn't, Hak tells her that her hands will become infected and rot off. She then threatens to stab him with the needle.

    Comic Books 
  • The DCU rogue Cheshire is a Master Poisoner, so she often fights with the aim to inflict these, as most of her weapons are coated with poisons and a scratch is all she needs to inflict her deadly toxins on her opponents. Her most iconic weapon is actually her nails, which allows her to subtly scratch people, poisoning them without them even noticing it.
  • In ElfQuest, Cutter is bitten in the hand by a squirrel he was trying to save. Problem, while tossing it away he falls into the same bog the squirrel was drowning in. The filthy water gets into the bite wound, resulting in an infection and life-threatening fever until Skywise manages to find healing herbs.
  • The Walking Dead: Walkers (zombies) can cause victims to become fatally ill from any sort of wound that comes directly from the Walker themselves — usually bites, but even a scratch obtained from their clawing or gripping will do the trick. The antagonist, Negan, exploits this by coating Lucille (his barbed-wire-tipped baseball bat) in "zombie gunk", making even a light grazing from it fatal.

    Fan Works 
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    Films — Animation 
  • In Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Sam accidentally cuts herself on some peanut brittle. The injury itself is minor, but since she's allergic to peanuts, she develops anaphylaxis.
  • Justice League: Doom: Cheetah injects Wonder Woman with nanobots by giving her a small cut on the arm. Though the wound itself is insignificant at first glance, the machines soon cause the heroine to visualize everyone around her as clones of her opponent. Wonder Woman thus engages all of them in combat, exerting herself to the point she nearly has a lethal heart attack.
  • The Road to El Dorado: During the final play of the ball game, Miguel takes a blow to the head that gives him a small cut over one of his eyebrows, which starts bleeding as he's chewing out the high priest Tzekel-Kan over trying to sacrifice the losing team. The cut itself is completely harmless, but the fact that Miguel is bleeding at all clues Tzekel-Kan in that these "gods" are not who they say they are, inspiring him to sic a giant stone jaguar on them.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 28 Days Later: The Rage zombies are so aggressive and infectious that when Selena sees her companion Mark nursing a small wound after a fight, she kills him on the spot without hesitation.
    Selena: I didn't know he was infected. He knew. I could see it in his face.
  • Captain Marvel: After Nick Fury annoys Goose once too often with unwanted attention, she scratches his eye. He dismisses it as "just a scratch", but Talos pessimistically shakes his head and says "No." This turns out to be the origin of Fury's iconic eye patch, though it doesn't actually kill him.
  • Dawn of the Dead: Early on the film establishes that a single zombie bite is enough to spread the infection and that anyone bitten is going to turn. One zombie attack ends with the zombie being pulled away prematurely, its teeth having barely grazed a woman's arm... which proves unfortunate when the woman's husband hides the resulting tiny nick out of fear of losing their unborn child.
  • The Day After Tomorrow: When trying to help a woman escape a trapped taxi, Laura gets a fairly nasty cut on her leg due to something sharp underwater. Turns out the cut she brushes off ends up getting infected due to the dirty storm surge water, and without proper treatment, she'd end up dying of blood poisoning.
  • In the From Dusk Till Dawn series:
    • From Dusk Till Dawn: One of the survivors, Sex Machine, gets jumped by a not-quite-dead vampire and bitten in the arm before staking it for good. He doesn't think much of it (since so far all who turned were killed first like Richie). But while listening to Frost recount a Vietnam story, he suddenly hears a raspy voice ordering him to kill the others before realizing he has fangs in his mouth and his hands have turned into claws. Pretty soon he turns completely and attacks the others.
    • From Dusk Till Dawn 3: One of Johnny's men was bitten by one of the brothel's vampires while having sex with them. At the time, he didn't know they were monsters nor that people will turn from said bite until seeing the preacher's wife come back as a vampire herself. Despite this, he keeps it hidden until the vampirism eventually takes hold of him and he bites said preacher.
  • During the climactic gunfight in the James Bond film Skyfall, M takes a grazing hit to the midsection. It's a fairly minor injury, the sort of thing that wouldn't even faze Bond himself. The problem is, Bond is an early-middle-aged active field agent in near-peak physical condition, while M is an elderly administrator whose health has seen better days. Thus, M gradually weakens as the injury goes untreated and ultimately dies of blood loss near the end of the film.
  • The Killer Shrews: Near the end of the film, one of the giant shrews manages to break into the room that everyone has holed up in and bites at Radford's leg before being driven off. Radford insists he's fine, saying that it only ripped the leg of his trouser, and sits down at his typewriter. He falls over dead in less than a minute — just that one small cut from the shrew's venomous teeth was fatal, and he knew what was coming and spent his final seconds typing up his symptoms. A scientist to the very end.
  • In the climactic fight between Eggsy and Gazelle in Kingsman: The Secret Service, Eggsy manages to give Gazelle a minor cut with his shoe blade that ordinarily would be shrugged off as Only a Flesh Wound. However, as the blade is poisoned, she succumbs to the poison after a short time (around thirty seconds).
  • Superman IV: The Quest for Peace has Supes tangle with Evil Knockoff Nuclear Man, whose razor-sharp fingernails (not claws) are able to cut some nasty-looking scratches into Superman's skin and inflict radiation poisoning, with leaves him dangerously close to death's door by the end of Act 2.
  • At the start of Werewolf, an archaeologist scratches himself on an ancient werewolf skeleton while excavating it. This is sufficient to begin transforming him into one.

    Gamebooks 
  • Lone Wolf:
    • In The Chasm of Doom, Lone wolf can fight a bandit patrol whose weapons are coated with poison. One scratch, and it's Game Over.
    • In Shadow on the Sand, fleeing from enemies, Lone Wolf gets grazed on the shoulder by a falling iron grate. A minor injury in game terms (only 1 Endurance point), but if he's later dunked into sewer water, the wound gets infected by a disease called limbdeath. This leads to an Injured Limb Episode, with a paralyzed arm reducing combat prowess, and a desperate search for the very rare Magic Antidote that can cure the disease before it kills Lone Wolf.

    Literature 
  • Brother Cadfael: In The Holy Thief, nobleman-turned-bandit leader Geoffrey de Mandeville evades all attempts to kill or capture him, but taking his helmet off on a particularly hot day leads to him suffering a minor graze on the scalp from an arrow. Days later he is dead from a virulent infection.
  • In The Curse of Chalion, Royse Teidez gets scratched by a captive leopard while killing it in the (mistaken) belief that it's a focus of the titular Curse. He refuses to have the injury tended, it becomes infected, and Teidez falls into a fever and dies.
  • The Daevabad Trilogy: The Geziri tribe's weapon of choice is the copper zulfiqar sword, which infects wounds with a magical poison that can't even be neutralized by Healing Hands. Their fighting style emphasizes mobility and shallow slashes to exploit this, since any cut is guaranteed to be lethal. At the end of Kingdom of Copper, Muntadhir is cut, but the djinn's magic is disabled before it can finish him off.
  • The Dark Tower: The Breaker prison of Algul Siento is located in a toxic area of End-World, meaning minor injuries like scrapes and bruises can become seriously infected if left untreated. Sheemie falls victim to this when he steps on a shard of broken glass and sustains a shallow cut, but forgets to tell anyone and dies of blood infection a few days later.
  • Dragaera: The slightest cut from a Morganti blade allows the weapon to eat the victim's soul and inflict Cessation of Existence. Worse, the weapons are somewhat sentient and actively hungry, and Vlad can sometimes sense them straining to reach the closest person.
  • Dune:
    • In general, the Dune universe loves this trope. Poisoned blades and poisoned needles abound, so it's practically guaranteed that any given scratch, cut, stab, or pinprick worth mentioning is more dangerous than it initially seems. Possibly the most iconic example is the gom jabbar, a needle tipped with meta-cyanide from which the slightest wound is fatal; it's used by the Bene Gesserit as part of a "test of humanity" and by the various noble houses to just straight up murder people.
    • Dune:
      • Feyd-Rautha Harkonnen fights in the gladiatorial arena wielding a paired set of knives: a shorter "white" blade that is meant to be poisoned, and a longer "black" blade intended to be kept "clean." For his 100th match, Feyd-Rautha secretly poisoned the longer blade instead, and managed to win the match by inflicting a shallow wound on his opponent (a House Atreides fighting man) with that weapon. However, rather than give Feyd-Rautha the satisfaction of killing him or letting the poison do the job, the opposing gladiator chose to stab himself instead.
      • At the climax, Baron Harkonnen attempts to grab Alia Atreides as a hostage and gets his hand scratched for his trouble. Unfortunately for him, that scratch was inflicted by the House Atreides gom jabbar Alia was carrying, and very quickly proves fatal.
  • Earth's Children: At the beginning of The Clan of the Cave Bear, Ayla is clawed on the thigh by a cave lion. The wound isn't immediately life-threatening but it quickly festers; it's mentioned by other characters that this tends to happen with cat claws, which is Truth in Television. Combined with the fact Ayla is starving, dehydrated, and only five years old, she soon weakens and collapses. She would've died if Iza - a highly-skilled medicine woman - hadn't found her and been able to treat her. Ayla is also left with permanent scarring where the lion's claws raked her skin.
  • Horus Heresy: The Anathame is a cursed weapon capable of killing anyone who sustains even a minor injury from it, provided their name is spoken to the blade first. When Horus Lupercal sustains one such minor injury from the Anathame in False Gods, his own semi-divine healing ability counteracting the curse results in a Wound That Will Not Heal that leaves him at death's door; in order to save his life, the Sons of Horus are forced to explore... "alternative" healing methods, setting in motion a chain of events that will ultimately lead to the hellish dystopia that is the "modern" Warhammer 40,000 universe.
  • Into the Drowning Deep: The deep-sea mermaids and their symbionts both carry incredibly potent toxins. One human pricks his finger on a snail's barb and hemorrhages to death within minutes. Another gets winged by a bullet contaminated with mermaid blood and dies of full-body necrosis.
  • Mushoku Tensei: Jobless Reincarnation: The catalyst for the Bad Future timeline is Roxy getting bitten by a mouse. It just so happens this mouse is infected with Magic Stone Disease, which just so happens to be incurable by any means short of God-tier healing magic, and just so happens to be fatal to women who are pregnant, which Roxy just so happens to be at the time. (The local Jerkass God is manipulating events to ensure that all these "just so happens" happen just so.) To say that Rudeus takes her death poorly would be something of an understatement.
  • Redwall: In Outcast of Redwall, the Wraith is a runty weasel with mottled fur that makes him almost invisible, whose "Kisser" is a poisoned stone blade able to kill anything with a single cut (as the Wraith demonstrates on an unlucky member of Scratt's horde, whose comrades think he ate spoiled fish). This trope ultimately ends up subverted when, after a long and laborious climb up to one of Salamandastron's windows, the Wraith is unceremoniously and accidentally clonked in the head by a thrown rock and falls down the mountain; while he does end up getting stabbed with his own knife for good measure, by that point it's pretty much just adding insult to injury.
  • In The Scum Villain’s Self-Saving System: Ren Zha Fanpai Zijiu Xitong, Shen Qingqiu's hand gets pierced by one of the spikes on Elder Tian Chui's armour coated in the poison known as Without a Cure. While he manages to survive through timely medical assistance, he requires monthly treatment to repress the poison from then on. Even then, it causes him to experience occasional blockages in spiritual power, making battles and sword flight much more dangerous for him.
  • The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner: Due to the spread of superbacteria resistant to all antibiotics, even a small scratch can be deadly. One of the chapters opens with doctors trying (and failing) to save the life of a little girl who got a small cut on her toe while she was playing outside.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: In A Game of Thrones, feared Dothraki warlord Khal Drogo suffers a minor chest wound during a battle. Because he does not care for the wound properly, it festers, eventually leaving Drogo near death. And then it turns out that the only person who can magically heal Drogo has a major grudge against him and intentionally botches the ritual, leaving him in a vegetative state.
  • The Stainless Steel Rat:
    • In The Stainless Steel Rat, Jim accidentally kills an assassin by scratching him with his own poisoned blade. Then he very carefully takes off his own shirt torn by the same blade because the poison in question doesn't even need a scratch, just skin contact.
    • The Stainless Steel Rat Wants You has Angelina and one of the boys captured by aliens. The guards are later found dead with the captives gone. After the family reunites, Angelina explains the two of them used poison on their nails, copying the trick Jim himself used in The Stainless Steel Rat's Revenge, though he himself used a sedative then.
    • In The Stainless Steel Rat for President, Jim surrenders to The Generalissimo Zapilote, then scratches Zapilote's face, describes the horrific death that Zapilote is about to suffer from the virus he smuggled in on his fingernails, and trades the cure for the release of all his captured family. Afterwards, he admits to a friend that he was bluffing with a drug to give Zapilote a harmless fever.
  • The Stand: During a scuffle with the infected Booth, Nick Andros tries to fire his gun and inflicts a minor wound down his own leg, which he quickly forgets about (especially considering Booth manages to gouge Nick's eyeball out with his thumb). However, being immune to the superflu doesn't mean he's immune to plain old regular germs, and his wound becomes infected enough to almost kill him (he manages to treat himself with antibiotics).
  • The Wheel of Time:
    • Mat takes a ruby-hilted dagger from the ruins of the cursed city of Shadar Logoth, which carries part of its curse with it. Just a scratch from the dagger causes a festering, skin-blackening taint to appear on the victim, which causes death in a matter of seconds unless magical healing is used. Its properties are revealed when Mat inflicts a shallow scratch on an enemy soldier during a scuffle, causing the soldier to collapse, screaming in pain as the curse takes hold of him.
    • Some of the nastier creatures of the Shadow wield cursed swords that inflict a slow death from any wound. Early in the first book, Rand's father takes a small cut while defending the family farm from one such creature and is soon reduced to a delirious fever, forcing Rand to take him to an Aes Sedai for Healing and setting him on his path as The Chosen One.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The 10th Kingdom: The evil Queen's poisoned comb kills within seconds from the slightest injury. When she tries to strangle Virginia in their final confrontation, Virginia pulls it from her hair and scratches her cheek with it, leaving her just enough time for a Dying Truce.
    The Queen: [touching her cheek] You have drawn... blood...
  • 2point4 Children: In "Bird on a Wire", David manages to get himself a cut. He ends up contacting Tetanus from it and he ends up at death's door over the course of the next episode (although he thankfully survives).
  • Doctor Who:
    • Implied in one episode, wherein Queen Victoria is scratched by a werewolf, and it's implied that the scratch is what caused her and her descendants to develop hemophilia.
    • Aboard the ill-fated pirate ship in "The Curse of the Black Spot", any injury, even a minor one, causes the mysterious Siren to appear to claim the injured for herself.
  • Khal Drogo in Game of Thrones suffers much the same fate as his book counterpart — receiving a shallow cut on the chest that becomes infected, leaving him at death's door, and then being rendered catatonic when the healing ritual is intentionally botched. In this case, however, the chest wound is received not during battle, but during a challenge from one of his own men, and wouldn't have happened at all if Drogo hadn't cut his own chest with the challenger's knife in order to make a point about how outclassed the guy was. If Drogo hadn't decided to show off, the plot of the show would have turned out very differently.
  • The Good Place: In "Patty", the spirit of an ancient Phoenician man talks about how even minor injuries could cause a deadly infection in the days before modern medicine:
    Tahani: How did you die?
    Paltibaal: I got a cut on my hand. The year was 2491 BC, so that's pretty much all it took. You got a cut or you drank water that wasn't hot enough and then, boom, dead.
  • Hercules: The Legendary Journeys: When Hercules took a trip to Norway, he was surprised to learn that the Norse gods can die, and there was a prophecy that Balder would die soon. In response, Odin extracted an oath from all things living and non-living to make them all incapable of killing Balder. This made Balder over-confident and he dared Hercules to strike him down. All the villagers offered him weapons, so Hercules chose the smallest, most harmless-looking dart. Unfortunately, Loki made a deal with Dahok to make a pinprick from the dart fatal.
  • House: In "House Training", the patient of the week contracts a Staphylococcus infection after accidentally scratching herself with a bra hook. Unfortunately, the doctors misdiagnose her with a rare form of cancer and submit her to radiation therapy, which debilitates her immune system. As a result, she ultimately dies from sepsis.
  • Law & Order:
    • Law & Order: The very first aired episode has an alcoholic doctor use this as a defense. Patients would come into his hospital suffering from minor easily treatable problems, but his incompetent drunken treatments would result in their deaths. He tried to claim that they were sicker than they appeared.
    • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit:
      • The episode "Witness" has a Victim of the Week whose hand was cut by a knife-wielding rapist. The cut got infected and the victim died.
      • Downplayed in "Transgender Bridge". The Victim of the Week was thrown off of a bridge and suffered serious injuries, but was recovering. Everyone was surprised when a broken bone resulted in a fatal embolism.
  • Off The Map: Dr. Ryan Clark got a papercut but due to her heart condition it developed into a nearly lethal infection.
  • Once Upon a Time: The sword Excalibur is enchanted so that even a single cut from its blade will cause a person to die, but the magic only works when the blade is whole. Hook finds this out the hard way after being scratched by the broken hilt during a fight and later starts to succumb when Emma attempts to repair the sword, and the only way she could save him was by binding his soul to the hilt of Excalibur to turn him into a second Dark One.
  • Star Trek:
    • Star Trek: The Original Series: The episode "Plato's Stepchildren" sees McCoy having to treat an alien named Parmen for what turns out to be an infection from a simple scratch. Parmen and (most of) his people all possess enhanced longevity, but poor immunity, making even small cuts potentially life-threatening, especially since they have no medical technology of their own. They attempt to coerce McCoy into staying to remedy that.
    • In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "The Ship" Crewman Muñiz gets shot with a Jem'Hadar rifle. Normally such a wound would be serious but treatable, except the Dominion's rifle shots include an anti-coagulant which prevents the wound from closing and Muñiz ends up dying of blood loss.
  • An occasional cause for medical evacuation in Survivor, as limited access to medicine and bandages can make an otherwise controlled cut seriously infected. Jonathan Penner (Micronesia) and Neal Gottlieb (Kaoh Rong) both had to be pulled for infections that could have cost them their leg, if not their life, while James Clement (also Micronesia) had to be removed for an infection on a cut no wider than his finger.
  • Years and Years: The Lyons siblings' estranged father ends up dying in Episode Three, after a hit from a courier bike left him with a scratch on his hand that got infected by antibiotic-resistant bacteria, causing sepsis-induced major organ failure.

    Music 
  • The third verse of "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Everything You Know Is Wrong" has the singer get a paper cut which gets infected, leading to his death.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dead of Winter: One random event has a player character meet a fellow Zombie Apocalypse survivor with a cut on his arm. He laughs it off, but the player has to choose whether to let him into the Home Base and roll the dice against a zombie outbreak there.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Weapons blessed by the Chaos gods Nurgle, Slaanesh, and Tzeentch are often capable of killing an opponent by inflicting the smallest of injuries, using virulent plagues, exquisitely agonizing toxins, and horrific uncontrolled mutation respectively. Weapons blessed by Khorne tend not to do this, as he considers such tricks to be cowardly, and prefers that his champions beat their opponents the old-fashioned way — brutally.
    • The weapons of the Drukhari are near-universally envenomed, ensorcelled, or otherwise enhanced such that even the slightest injury will leave the victim helplessly writhing in agony. However, while these scratches are crippling and incapacitating, they're rarely actually deadly — the Drukhari's survival hinges on their ability to take living captives, and the fate that awaits these captives is far worse than simple death.
    • The poisoned blades used by the Imperium's Callidus temple assassins are coated in toxins so potent that even a tiny scratch can be lethal to the target. The neuro-gauntlets used by Eversor temple assassins are technically also capable of this, but since the wielder of that weapon is an Eversor assassin, the injuries a target receives are likely to be rather more extensive and immediately fatal than a simple scratch.

    Theatre 
  • During the climactic duel in Hamlet, Hamlet is winning against Laertes but gets slashed by Laertes' blade, which was coated in poison by Claudius to ensure Hamlet's death. Hamlet still manages to mortally wound Laertes, kill Claudius, and make a big speech before succumbing to the poison.

    Video Games 
  • Arknights: One of the infection vectors for the incurable, fatal disease Oripathy is having an open wound exposed to Originium. Several characters in the game contracted the disease from otherwise inconsequential injuries that were inflicted by or contaminated with Originium crystals.
  • Batman: Arkham Origins: When Batman encounters Copperhead, she manages to scratch him across the cheek. While a minor scratch, her fingernails are tipped with poison and he soon becomes delirious and starts to hallucinate while fighting to make his way to area where Alfred can drop the antidote. All while likewise fending off Copperhead's attacks.
  • God of War (PS4): Baldr is completely unkillable, able to No-Sell or quickly heal from virtually everything Kratos can throw at him, but, when he grabs Atreus, he accidentally pricks himself with the mistletoe arrow Atreus was using to hold his quiver on, which breaks the spell that was protecting him, giving Kratos a chance to actually kill him.
  • Janga, a villainous cat from Klonoa Heroes, bears long claws that can poison anyone scratched by them. The game lets us know who two of his victims were: Butz, Guntz's father (killed prior to the game's events), and Klonoa (who's given an antidote in time after Janga's death.
  • Leisure Suit Larry 6: Shape Up or Slip Out!: If Larry tries to lift weights in La Costa Lotta's weight room, one of the weights falls on Larry's foot. The resulting injury becomes gangrenous, resulting in Larry's death. Again.
  • Metal Gear: Zero's vegetative state (as seen in Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots), which left him unable to correct his mistakes with Cipher and the Patriots and ultimately led to so much suffering in the world, was revealed in Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain to have been caused by him pricking his finger on a pin badge that Skull Face had infested with parasites.
  • Oni: Pretty much the entire plot of the game can be traced back to researcher-turned-activist Jamie Hasegawa (née Kerr) and her decision to explore the heavily-polluted quarantine zone beyond the reach of the city's atmosphere processors without proper protective equipment. During one such excursion, Jamie got a scratch on her leg, which quickly became massively infected and led to her agonizing death. This in turn drove her husband and her brother to research the Daodon Chrysalis, which led to the Syndicate and TFTC taking an interest, which led to the Chrysalis being implanted in Jamie's children Muro and Mai (a.k.a. the protagonist Konoko), which ultimately led to thousands of people dying in Muro's terrorist attack on the atmosphere processors at the climax of the game. All because Jamie didn't wear long pants that day.
  • An actual gameplay element in Resonance of Fate. Automatic weapons such as uzis can't deal direct damage: rather they deal "scratch damage", turning large chunks of enemy health bars blue. The scratch damage they take slowly heals, but any damage they take in the meantime immediately turns the temporary scratch damage into actual, lethal "true damage". The basic gameplay cycle is "empty a magazine of machine gun ammo into an opponent, filling their entire health bar with scratch damage, them looking none the worse for wear, then shoot them once with a pistol and knock them on their ass". It's even commented on by certain enemies as they succumb.
    "It seemed like such a... little wound...!"
  • In Terrible Treasures, a Licensed Game for Horrible Histories, one minor character on the "Terrible Tudors" level is a ghost. When asked how she died, she responds that she died from a minor cut from her sewing needle, which got infected.

    Visual Novels 
  • The Labyrinth of Grisaia: Highly skilled assassin Kusakabe Asako was lightly wounded in the shoulder during one of her missions. This injury led to her developing treatment-resistant venous thrombosis, which causes her health to deteriorate later in life and ultimately kills her.

    Web Animation 
  • When Qrow and Tyrian fight in RWBY Volume 4, the only injury Qrow receives is a thin scratch across the midsection. Unfortunately, Tyrian is a scorpion faunus and that scratch came from his stinger, meaning Qrow starts coughing up discolored blood shortly afterwards and spends most of the rest of the volume incapacitated and slowly dying until he's able to receive proper medical attention.

    Webcomics 
  • Freefall: During the storm, Florence gets a cut on her leg, that quickly turns out life-threatening due to the risk of bleeding out. When Dr. Thurmad heals her, at some point he comments that she likely wouldn't have lasted five more minutes.
  • The Order of the Stick: When Therkla, a powerful Ninja, turns against her Evil Mentor, he waits for a distraction and scratches her In the Back with a Poison Ring. The poison incapacitates her immediately and kills her on the next page.
  • Stand Still, Stay Silent: In Copenhagen, Sigrun is attacked and bitten by a small troll, but pretends to be fine to look strong in front of the crew. Eventually, it starts impairing Sigrun's ability to fight and prevents her from killing a troll heading under the vehicle, allowing it to infect Tuuri with the Rash Illness and resulting in her death. Mikkel later looks at Sigrun's bite and discovers her arm has become badly infected due to her neglect, though it's still treatable and she's fine by the second arc.
  • Unsounded: Ana gets bitten by Pantoffel, and while the wound is nasty her spells should allow her to easily leach any infection from it. Instead she allows the infection to spread while wallowing in grief and self recrimination until the Selver uses her mess of an arm as an entry point to possessing and reshaping her into its vessel.

    Western Animation 
  • 6teen: In "Dude of the Living Dead", Kristen is scratched by a zombie, but since it's believed that the infection can only spread through bites, she dismisses it as a minor injury. This notion is proven to be incorrect, as she quickly transforms and attacks her best friends.
  • Arthur: In "Arthur's Knee", this get touched on by Brain after Arthur gets a nasty cut on his knee from serrated tin can while exploring a junkyard, explaining to him what'll happen if he doesn't get it properly treated. Arthur is reluctant, since that would reveal he went to the junkyard against his parents' wishes and get him into trouble, but ultimately realizes he can't ignore the wound.
  • Futurama: In "The Sting", Fry and Leela are both stung by a baby Queen Space Bee. Although Leela gets only a minor wound, the end of the episode reveals that this is where all the poison went, which put her into a two-week-long coma which she may not have woken up from. Comparatively, Fry got a major wound but he only needed a spleen replacement. (Ironically, most of the episode made the audience believe that Leela was unharmed whilst Fry was dead.)
  • The Wild Thornberrys: In "Hello Dolphin!", Debbie is swimming with dolphins when she gets her leg caught in some coral and opens up a small cut on her foot as she struggles to get loose. At first she's too busy trying not to drown to care, but the cut becomes a problem when the smell of blood in the water attracts a couple of nearby tiger sharks.

    Real Life 
  • Truth in Television: In general, any wound, no matter how small, can become dangerous or even life-threatening if it is allowed to become infected.
    • Tetanus, or lockjaw, is caused by a bacterium that can remain dormant in soil or animal feces for extended periods of time. When these bacteria find their way into a body through an open wound (such as fiction's ever-popular "stepping on a rusty nail"), the toxins from the resulting infection can cause muscle rigidity and spasms, with potentially lethal complications arising from breathing problems or nerve damage. This is why it's important to keep up with those tetanus booster shots!
    • Most animals don't care where they step, so their paws and claws are often coated in bacteria. Their teeth tend to be worse, so even a small bite or cut can leave you with a nasty infection. Cat Scratch Fever, for example, is an infection usually caused by a cat bite or scratch. While the infection isn't usually lethal, it can still cause problems such as a fever, headache, and swelling around the wound.
    • Speaking of bites, human bites are very dangerous for this reason. While our mouths lack the shape and power to do as much physical damage as an animal's mouth, the human mouth is an outright cesspool of bacteria and very often contains more contagions than an animal bite. A bite from a human is much more likely to become infected or cause tendon or nerve damage than an animal bite, and that's not even factoring in the risk of diseases like HIV or Hepatitis that can be spread by bites.
    • Paper cuts can be pretty painful but are ultimately harmless, right? Not so if the cut gets infected. People have caught flesh-eating bugs or developed sepsis this way requiring numerous surgeries and sometimes even amputation to stop the infection from spreading any further.
  • According to legend, the Viking chieftain Sigurd Eysteinsson beat the Scot chief Mael Brigte in battle by bringing twice the agreed-upon number of men to the battle. Mael was decapitated and his head attached to Sigurd's saddle, but Sigurd scratched his leg on Mael's teeth and died after the wound was infected. This isn't unheard of for human bites, as the bacteria in human teeth are known for being especially virulent when they get in a wound, complete with common and potentially lethal staph infections.
  • The English poet Rupert Brooke died in World War I — as a result of a mosquito bite that became infected and caused sepsis. Mosquito bites in general can be this trope, given the number of deadly diseases they can transmit. One bite and the victim could wind up dying of malaria.
  • World War II:
    • When SOE agent Violette Szabo (the inspiration for the film Carve Her Name with Pride and, much more loosely, the video game Velvet Assassin) was receiving parachute training in early 1944, her first jump resulted in a bad landing and a severely sprained ankle. About six months later, during her second mission in occupied France, this same ankle would give out on her while she was trying to escape from a German roadblock, leading directly to her capture and eventual death in a concentration camp.
    • The loss of the IJN aircraft carrier Taihō at the Battle of the Philippine Sea was set into motion when the ship took a torpedo hit from an American submarine early in the battle. The damage caused by this hit — a hole beneath the water line, a jammed elevator, and an aviation fuel leak — was not nearly enough on its own to sink Taihō. However, flaws in the ship's design and poor damage control allowed gasoline vapors to permeate the entire vessel, turning her into an enormous fuel-air bomb. Taihō ultimately suffered a spontaneous, massive detonation several hours after the torpedo hit, sinking beneath the waves without having received any further enemy attack.

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