Corinne Gemberling is an emergency room nurse who has seen her share of dog bite injuries in her shift at a Cleveland, Ohio area hospital. She has also observed wounds inflicted by cats and treated bites where a human has bitten another person.
The most frequent problem Gemberling has seen in treating dog bites is that too many people wait too long before coming to the ER. When they come in with a wound that has started to become infected, it is more challenging to treat.
In her years of dealing with dog bite injuries, Ms. Gemberling has never seen a person die or even lose a limb from a dog bite, but she notes, “I know this can happen. Other nurses have told me about it. I cannot overemphasize that taking action early is very important.”
Medical Treatment for Dog Bite Wound
Treatment for a dog bite depends on how serious the bite or bites look when the victim arrives at the hospital.
“X-rays are usually done on wounds that look deep”, Gemberling said, “There may be significant damage beneath the skin. The extent of the injury is not always obvious at first glance.”
A patient is given a tetanus shot if they have not had one in the past five years and prophylactic antibiotics (amoxicillin) that fight infection are frequently administered if there is a high risk of infection, for example if the person is diabetic, or has a weakened immune system due to steroid medications.
“The majority of dog bites cause minor wounds and may not even break the skin”, Ms. Gemberling claims.
Even before you get to the hospital, she advises cleaning the bite with soap and water and rinsing it for four or five minutes. Next apply antibiotic ointment or spray and a sterile bandage. If the wound bleeds, apply pressure and try to keep the injured area elevated until you can see a doctor.
If the skin is punctured or lacerated, it is more likely a bite may cause more serious complications. If the bite is deep, it is possible muscles, tendons, nerves, blood vessels, or bones may be damaged.
If you can’t stop the bleeding, this is another sign that the bite may be serious. There are more than 60 varieties of bacteria in the canine mouth so the risk of a bite becoming infected is high, especially if the dog that bit you is unfamiliar.
Here are seven warning signs from healthline.com that a dog bite is infected or may be becoming infected:
• Pus or fluid oozing from the wound
• Pain, swelling, redness or tenderness in areas near the bite
• Loss of sensation around the bite
• Limited use of the fingers or hand if the hand was bitten
• Red streaks near the bite
• Fever or chills
• Night sweats
If you seek medical help for your bite, the doctor may ask you whether you know the owner of the dog; if you know if the dog is up to date on all vaccinations, including rabies; and if it appeared the dog was provoked. He may also ask about health conditions that put you at greater risk of infection.
Whether to suture a wound can also be controversial. WebMD.com points out that although suturing the injury can reduce scarring, the risk of infection increases with a tightly closed wound. Wounds to the face are usually treated with sutures for aesthetic reasons.
Checklist of What To Do If Bitten By a Dog
Other immediate things to keep in mind if you are the victim of a dog bite:
• Try to take photographs of your injuries or have a friend do so. Preserving the appearance of initial injuries and subsequent scarring or disfigurement is important.
• Record the names of the dog’s owner, harborer, or keeper and any witnesses. (Try to get the street address, home telephone, cell phone and e-mail address.) A “harborer” is a person who controls where a dog lives. For example, if a dog owner lives with his parents, they could be “harborers.” A “keeper” is a person who maintains control of a dog, even temporarily. If a friend is walking your dog and it breaks free and bites someone, that friend could be liable.
• File a report about the incident with your local animal control department. An investigation by the proper authorities can be very important if you later decide to file a legal claim.
• If the injury is serious in nature (requires stitches, surgery or a hospital stay), you should consider calling a dog bite attorney. The dog owner’s insurance company will be pushing to settle the claim as quickly as possible for the smallest amount and you will need professional help to present your case.
• Start a file. Save and record everything associated with your dog bite claim. Keep every medical bill. Keep track of any income or wages lost or forfeited as a result of your injuries.
Tetanus and Rabies
When you are bitten by a dog or another animal, these are two major disease concerns, tetanus and rabies. Fortunately both of these diseases are uncommon results of a bite in the United States. If an adult dog bite victim is up to date on tetanus shots, they may not need a booster shot, but it may be given as a precaution.
Persons ages 11-18 should receive, a Tdap (Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis) vaccine and a Td (tetanus and diphtheria) booster every 10 years thereafter. (Some physicians suggest a five-year interval.)
Tetanus is a serious bacterial infection caused when the Clostridium tetani bacterium is deposited in a wound or anywhere where the skin has been broken. The bacteria’s origin can also be soil, manure, dust, burns or non-sterile injection of drugs. The bacterium interferes with nerves that control muscle movement and painful spasms result. It is often referred to as “lockjaw” because it causes muscle contractions in the jaw and neck that eventually spread to other parts of the body.
Tetanus can lead to death, but according to mayoclinic.org, there are now fewer than 1,000 tetanus cases per year in the United States. The infection is preventable by vaccine and treatable by a
medical professional. It spreads through contact with a contaminated object or surface.
Symptoms of tetanus appear from a few days to several weeks after the tetanus bacteria enter the body. The average incubation period is seven to 10 days. Common signs and symptoms are:
• Spasms and stiffness in jaw muscles
• Stiffness of neck muscles
• Stiffness of abdominal muscles
• Difficulty swallowing
• Painful body spasms lasting for several minutes, typically triggered by minor occurrences such as a loud noise, physical touch or light
If a dog’s health status is unknown, or he tests positive for rabies, the dog bite victim will need to be vaccinated. Rabies is a virus that affects the human’s central nervous system and causes inflammation in the brain. Domestic dogs, cats, cows, ferrets, goats, horses and rabbits and wild animals (skunks, raccoons, beavers, coyotes, foxes, monkeys, woodchucks and bats) can transfer the virus to humans. People become exposed to rabies when they are bitten by an infected animal, or when saliva from an infected animal gets into an open wound or unto a mucous membrane.
Ohio Department of Health records for 2009 to 2014 indicate more than 6,000 dogs were tested for rabies in that period, but only one tested positive. In contrast, 5,144 bats were tested and 233 tested positive. Twenty one raccoons, 15 skunks, three cats and one cow also tested positive. Ohio’s last human rabies case was in 1970.
Rabies is a rarity in the U.S., but it can be deadly. Following a bite, the animal’s status must be determined immediately through testing of brain tissue or observing them in quarantine. Rabies therapy must begin as soon as possible if the disease is found. Initial symptoms of rabies are similar to the flu and may last for days (mayoclinic).
Later signs and symptoms are fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, agitation, anxiety, confusion, hyperactivity, difficulty swallowing, excessive salivation, fear of water, hallucinations and insomnia.
Animals show the following symptoms of rabies: no fear of humans, restlessness, excitability, aggression, sudden mood changes, excessive drooling, eating substances not normally eaten, paralysis, staggering, falling and circling.
Certain factors increase an individual’s risk of rabies:
• Health conditions such as diabetes.
• Wounds to the head or neck which may help the virus travel to the brain more quickly.
• Traveling or living in developing countries where rabies is more common such as
Africa and Southeast Asia.
• Working in a laboratory with the rabies virus.
• Activities likely to put one in contact with wild animals that may have rabies such as exploring caves where bats live.
Another complication of a dog bite can be a serious bone infection known as osteomyelitis. It is caused by the Staphylococcus aureus bacterium and may affect the bone and bone marrow resulting in loss of the affected limb. If left untreated, it can be fatal.
Monitoring for Rabies by Local Health Departments
Since 1990, the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) has distributed a survey to all of Ohio’s local public health departments to gather information concerning potential rabies exposure in the state. Non-bite exposures are also counted. These non-bite exposures can occur when a bat is found in a room where someone is sleeping. It is often difficult to tell if that person may have been bitten as many bats are rabid.
In 2015, there were a total of 20,654 potential human exposures to rabies in Ohio. This included 16,186 dog reports; 3,553 cat exposures; 698 bat exposures and 177 raccoon exposures. For all other animals, there were 73 or less incidents reported during 2015.
Along with many other Ohio counties, Summit County has been conducting a rabies vaccine “baiting” operation in response to raccoons and skunks recently testing positive in adjoining counties.
Jim Kendrick of Summit County Public Health’s Division of Environmental Health explained the “baiting” process which is done by the health district in the spring and fall in conjunction with the U.S. Division of Wildlife Services. The program has been underway for more than 10 years. A raccoon becomes vaccinated by eating the bait and develops antibodies in two to three weeks.
“The idea is that the antibodies will protect the raccoon if it is exposed to a rabies-infected raccoon and will help stop the spread of the disease,” Mr. Kendrick said.
He explained there are two types of bait are used to deliver the vaccine to the targeted animals. The first is a block with a fish meal odor designed to draw raccoons. A plastic packet inside contains a red liquid vaccine. The second type of bait is a dark green blister pack with a sweet coating to attract other wildlife.
Neither of the bait packages is harmful to humans, pets or livestock. If bait is found near a home, it should be left alone if unbroken, or placed in an area where it is not likely to come in contact with children and pets.
According to the Summit County Environmental Health Code, all dogs and cats in Summit County must be vaccinated against rabies within 30 days after the animal reaches three months. They must be revaccinated one year later and thereafter at intervals of not more than 36 months.
Summit County offers low cost rabies vaccinations for dogs and cats and additional vaccines at reduced cost.
All animal bites reported to the Summit County Public Health Department are investigated. The department can be contacted by calling (330) 926-5600.
If the department is notified that a bite victim has potential rabies exposure, they will arrange to quarantine the animal or test its brain tissue for rabies. In some cases rabies treatment will be started without waiting, Kendrick said.
Frequency of Dog Bites
Almost 70 million dogs live in the United States. The U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates there are nearly five million dog bites each year. Approximately 900,000 victims, or one in five, seek emergency medical care for their injuries. Nearly 30,000 of these victims undergo reconstructive surgery, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons. In 2016, 41 people died of dog bite injuries.
The majority of dog bite victims are children aged 5 to 9. The elderly also frequently fall prey to dog attacks.
Other statistics show that:
• The family dog is often responsible for bites and the more dogs in a home, the greater the risk of someone being bitten.
• Adults with two or more dogs in the household are five times more likely to be bitten.
• More men are bitten than women.
• Many dogs that bite are not neutered or spayed.
Why Dogs Bite
There are many reasons dogs bite humans. They may bite out of fear, territorialism, as a response to pain, or it may even be a case of mistaken identity.
Dogs are protective of their home, yard and the area surrounding it. Any strangers entering the dog’s space could wind up with a bite. A dog may feel protective of its owner and perceive an approaching human as a threat.
An injured or sick dog may bite. It does not know when you come to investigate its behavior that you are trying to help. If you accidentally hurt your pet, it may respond with a bite or nip as a reflex action.
Some dogs do not tolerate small children especially if they are not used to them. Toddlers may prod or poke the dog and climb on it. They should be taught to leave the dog alone.
Ohio Dog Bite Laws
When it comes to dog bites, Ohio is known as a “strict liability” state. This is a good thing for dog bite victims. If you or a loved one is bitten by a dog anywhere in Ohio the dog’s owner, harborer, or keeper will be held liable for any injuries or damages caused by the dog without having to prove the negligence of the dog’s owner, harborer or keeper. A dog bite victim must only prove that he or she was bitten and that the dog’s bite caused injury or other damage.
There are a few exceptions to the strict liability rule. If the victim of the bite was criminally trespassing or attempting to trespass on the property of the dog’s owner, or if the person who was bit was teasing, tormenting or abusing the dog, the dog’s owner will not be held liable.
In Ohio, the dog’s owner, harborer, or keeper can be held liable on the basis of common law negligence, for example, if the dog was allowed to run free, unleashed throughout the neighborhood and bit someone. In Ohio, a dog bite victim can pursue claims under both strict liability and negligence. With common law actions, compensation known as punitive damages, can be sought by the victim in excess of actual damages.
Claims for Injuries and Damages from a Dog Attack
The following are common injuries that can result from a dog attack: cuts and lacerations, muscle, ligament, tendon and nerve damage and broken bones. There is also the possibility of rabies and other complications such as bone disease.
Damages recoverable include medical expenses, cosmetic surgery, physical therapy, permanent scarring, psychological counseling, loss of quality of life, loss of income and wages, loss of future earning capacity, temporary or permanent disability and pain and suffering.
Medical expenses include bills incurred as a result of the dog bite, both at the time of the bite and later. This includes out-of-pocket co-pays for insurance and prescription drugs. Dog bite victims can also recover wages lost as a result of their injuries. This could include time missed due to medical treatments or time missed due to inability to perform work duties.
Permanent injuries that render the dog bite victim disabled or disfigured and physical pain and suffering experienced are also compensable, but there is no exact method for calculating them. The value of such claims will be determined by what the parties can agree it is worth, or what a jury says the claim is worth.
Statute of Limitations
In Ohio, a dog bite victim has six years (6) from the date of the bite in which to file a lawsuit against the dog’s owner, harborer or keeper. The timeframe (called the statute of limitations) is longer for a child victim. He or she has six (6) years beyond his 18th birthday in which to file a lawsuit.
If you have dog bite injuries for which you can claim compensation, you will want to talk to a dog bite attorney who can apprise you of your rights and find out whether the dog owner’s insurance will cover your losses or if liabilities in the matter can be handled in another fashion. You can contact our Ohio dog bite attorneys for a free and private consultation at any time by calling 1-888-998-9101, chatting with one of our 24-hour live chat representatives or sending us a website message.
During a free consultation we will discuss what happened when the dog bit you, what your expenses have been to date and what you anticipate them being in the future. Then provide your legal rights to seek compensation for these injuries and damages under Ohio law.
Dog bites are serious business. They can alter lives permanently through no fault of the victim. Make sure you get justice for yourself and your family by learning about dog bite laws in Ohio and how they can work for you.