There is no doubt that if you or a member of your family is bitten by a dog, it’s something to take very seriously. Infection occurs in about 10 to 15 percent of dog bites, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics and in about 50 percent of cat bites. Animal bites are polymicrobial which means multiple species of bacteria are present.
Tetanus and rabies are some of the most serious, life-threatening diseases that can result from a bite. This article will tell you about several others to look out for.
Why do these bites become infected and where does the infection come from?
According to Dr. Nancy Choi of healthline, a website “dedicated to the pursuit of wellness,” one reason animal bites lead to infection is because people are often bit on the fingers or hands–areas of the body that have difficulty fighting infection. Problems arise when bacteria from a dog’s mouth or saliva penetrate the skin. The environment and human skin can also be a source.
Bites that don’t break the skin are usually nothing to worry about, but even minor bites can cause major trouble and the friendliest dog can bite under the right circumstances. Cuts or lacerations pose a greater risk of infection. Deep puncture wounds, often caused by a cat, pose the highest risk, according to Dr. Choi. Additional risk factors include the bite victim having a weakened immune system, a bite that also causes a fracture or other damage to the body, and failure to quickly and thoroughly clean a wound.
Dog bites comprise about 85 to 90 percent of animal bites in the United States, and cats are responsible for about 5 to 10 percent, according to American Family Physician, a peer-reviewed journal providing education for medical professionals. Almost eight percent of these bites are work-related (postal employees) and one percent require a visit to the emergency room.
The website, dogexpert.com gives slightly higher statistics reporting that of 100 patients seeking emergency treatment for dog bites, 2.5 percent are admitted to a hospital. (This compares to eight percent for all other injuries.) Dogbites.org claims 9500 persons a year are hospitalized for dog bites in the United States.
Symptoms of a bite infection
According to Dr. Choi, redness, pain, swelling and inflammation at the site of the wound are symptoms that indicate a person should consider seeking treatment, especially if present within 24 to 48 hours.
Less common symptoms which would indicate possible infection are:
- Fever or chills
- Tenderness around bite
- Pus or fluid oozing from wound
- Loss of sensation around bite
- Red streaks in area of bite
- Muscle weakness or tremors
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Night sweats
- Breathing difficulties
Upon seeking treatment, X-rays may be done to determine if the infection has spread to the bone. Blood tests may also be conducted to diagnose sepsis, a condition caused by spreading of the infection. Sepsis and bone infections can be life-threatening. Your doctor may want to know what kind of animal bit you, what prompted the attack, if the animal was vaccinated against rabies and the date of your last tetanus shot. (The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends five tetanus shots by the age of six and one every 10 years for teens and adults.)
If the bite is near a joint, tendon (the wrist or ankle), or the genitals, or if there has been significant trauma, the victim should seriously consider seeing a physician.
How are animal bites treated?
For all wounds it is very important to administer first aid rapidly and thoroughly. Wash the area with soap and water and cover it with a fresh, clean bandage. Medical attention should be sought for deeper wounds or those showing signs of infection. Apply pressure with a clean cloth if there is bleeding.
Physicians often prescribe oral antibiotics for five or 10 days. If the bite is infected, they may order intravenous antibiotics until the infection improves. The doctor may also prescribe a tetanus booster shot. The wound should look better and the patient should feel better within 48 hours.
One should return for further treatment if symptoms do not improve or worsen, if they return after going away or if new symptoms appear. If the animal that bit starts showing symptoms of illness, call your physician immediately.
A bite victim should also report the incident to the local health department especially if the dog is unidentified.
A brief description of some bacterial diseases humans can contract from canines follows.
Tetanus is an incurable bacterial disease produced by a type of bacteria called Clostridium tetani. An infected person can exhibit the following: difficulty swallowing, stiff jaw, neck muscles, or abdominal muscles and painful body spasms. Tetanus is rare in the United States, but is sometimes seen in deep bite wounds, according to the CDC.
Rabies is a potentially deadly viral disease which causes high fever, convulsions and difficulty swallowing. Currently there are only one to three cases per year in the U.S. but there are about 60,000 cases in developing countries. If a person has been bitten by an unvaccinated animal, most medical professionals will begin rabies treatment if there are any symptoms of the disease. If the animal is a pet, it may be quarantined and observed to see if there is any threat of the disease.
This is bacterium commonly found in the mouths of dogs and cats which can lead to sepsis infections. The Conversation, a news organization that publishes articles exclusively written by academics, says three fourths of healthy dogs harbor this bacterium. Most suffer no negative effects nor do the humans who come in contact with them.
But those who have reduced immune function may run into problems. Jacqueline Boyd, a lecturer in animal science at Trent University in Nottingham, England, published an article on The Conversation website which says even a lick from a dog can spread the infection. She explained that consequences of a Capnocytophaga canimorus infection for those with reduced immunity can be extreme, including gangrene and amputations.
Commonly thought of as a foodborne illness, Boyd claims humans can get this severe gastrointestinal disease from a pet especially if exposed to its fecal matter.
This disease can also be acquired from close contact with infected dog waste, according to Boyd. It is a parasite that can cause blindness in humans. Larval parasites migrate through the body tissues leaving a trail of permanent damage.
Other diseases associated with dog bites
A type of bacteria found in more than 50 percent of infected dog bite wounds, according to the CDC, it causes a painful redness at the site of the bite, but can be more serious with people who have a weak immune system. With this disease, a patient may experience swollen glands, swelling in the joints, and difficulty moving.
The CDC describes Methicillin Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus as a type of staph infection resistant to a certain group of antibiotics. Dogs and other animals can carry MRSA without showing symptoms. The bacteria can cause skin, lung and urinary tract infections in people. MRSA can spread to the lungs or bloodstream and is life-threatening.
Another bacteria identified by the CDC, these can come from the skin of the victim or the environment as well as a dog’s mouth. Infections can progress to endocarditis, an infection of the lining of the heart, or necrotizing fasciitis (flesh-eating bacteria).
If a dog’s fangs penetrate the superficial fascia (connective tissue), it is possible to develop bone infections such as septic arthritis and osteomyelitis.
Where do I turn for help?
Under Ohio law, a dog’s owner, or whoever is taking care of the dog when the bite occurred, is held liable unless the person bitten was provoking or teasing the dog or trespassing.
A dog owner’s homeowner’s insurance generally covers any expenses from a dog bite. Sometimes the person bitten, or in the case of a minor, the parents of the child, can agree on an amount of compensation with the insurance company. If this does not happen, the injured party should contact a law firm.
The Ohio law firm of Slater & Zurz LLP has successfully represented dog-bite victims for many years—several of them children. One lost part of his scalp in an attack, another had the tip of an ear bitten off and one had a gash to the face that was so severe it required reconstructive and plastic surgery. The firm’s attorneys have fought for dog-bite clients in more than 30 Ohio counties and 45 cities and handle about 150 cases a year.
At the other end of the spectrum, members of the firm have created a video and book aimed at educating children about how to avoid being bitten by a dog. Attorney James Slater, managing partner of the law firm, who was nearly attacked by a large dog in his boyhood, has also visited several Akron elementary schools to spread the message of bite prevention.
The firm serves clients throughout Ohio from offices in Akron, Canton, Cleveland, and Columbus. It offers a free dog bite book, “When a Dog Bites Fight Back” which includes extensive information about what you need to do and what not to do when dealing with dogs.
Contact Slater & Zurz LLP by sending a message from their website, slaterzurz.com, or by chatting with one of their 24-hour live representatives. Or simply call them at 1-888-998-9101 and ask for a dog-bite attorney.