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Watch for rabies, infection when an animal bites

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They say a dog is man’s best friend, but not always. Sometimes dogs bite. A dog may bite for many reasons and it may not have been intentional, but it can be serious.  

Dogs bite about 4.5 million Americans every year, half of them children between ages 5 and 9. One out of every five of those bites causes an injury that requires medical attention, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

The first thing we need to resolve is if the dog has rabies. Rabies is caused by a virus that infects the brain and ultimately leads to death. Rabies is transmitted through the saliva from an infected mammal to another mammal.  

If left untreated, rabies is almost always fatal. However, if treated quickly after the bite success is highly probable. Once the symptoms of rabies start, the disease is nearly universally fatal. When in doubt, seek immediate medical attention for post exposure prophylaxis.

No cases of rabies infection have been reported in the U.S. from fully vaccinated domestic dogs or cats.

First aid for dog bites is pretty straightforward.

  1. Clean the wound immediately. Run it under warm water for a few minutes to ensure it is thoroughly cleaned. Then wash the bite carefully with soap and water.
  2. Place a clean towel or gauze pad over the injury to stop the bleeding.
  3. Try to keep the injured area elevated above the heart.
  4. Apply antibiotic ointment to the injury every day to prevent infection.
  5. Provide pain relief with over-the-counter painkillers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen to reduce the pain and inflammation.

Victims and caregivers should seek immediate medical attention:

  1. If the animal does not have current vaccination.
  2. If you do not know who owns the animal.
  3. If the injury is on the face or genitals.
  4. If the bite is large, deep or appears to be infected.
  5. If the person who was bit has a health condition such as diabetes, liver disease, cancer or a compromised immune system.

If a dog bite becomes infected, seek medical advice immediately. Animal bites may cause blood poisoning (sepsis), an infection of the inner lining of the heart (endocarditis) or an infection of the outer layers of the brain (meningitis). Signs of an infection include increased pain around the bite area, redness and swelling around the bite, fluid or pus leaking from the bite, swollen lymph glands, or fever and/or chills.

Sometimes, doctors may use stitches to close a dog bite wound; however, this may cause problems. While stitches may reduce scarring, they can also increase the risk of infection. Deep wounds, especially to the face, may require plastic surgery.

After being bitten, a doctor may advise a victim to take antibiotics for 7 to 14 days to prevent or treat an infection. The doctor will also ensure that the tetanus vaccine is up to date.

Trained as an emergency medical technician, Keith Murray now owns The CPR School, which provides onboard CPR, AED and first-aid training as well as AED sales and service. Contact him through www.TheCPRSchool.com.

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