A new meta-review study that examined a variety of literature sources have revealed more interesting facts on possible health problems that can arise after humans are bit by animals, primarily focusing on the most common occurrence – cat and dog bites. Scientists have assessed the significance of early dog bite injury treatment and the methods used such as antibiotics to avoid the situation becoming more complex to the point of infection, serious disabilities and even amputations.
Most people are familiar with dog bites. According to statistics from a study provided by HCUP via DogsBite.org, in 2008 there were 316,200 visits to the emergency department, and 9,500 stays in the hospitals – all related to dog bites alone. Apparently, the number has jumped to around 330,000 ED visits a year for a dog bite treatment by 2013, according to multiple unconfirmed sources. The new study based on literature review has been published in Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (JAAOS), and provides valuable insights for dog owners on how to deal with dog bite injuries .
Researchers say that saliva of dogs as well as majority of other animals who are likely to be accounted for biting humans carries a wide array of bacteria. For example, a somewhat known fact is that jaws of an adult canine that belongs to a larger breed can produce a biting force equivalent to an astounding 300-350 pounds per square inch (although this is nothing compared to hippos’ 1,825 pounds psi or crocodile’s 3,700 pounds psi). The 300 psi dog bite strength – combined with canine’s sharp set of teeth that are designed to pierce, hold, clamp, tear, crush and destroy flesh, ligaments, tendons and bones – has the potential to cause major injuries if bitten.
“Although many people may be reluctant to immediately go to a doctor, all bites to the hand should receive medical care. And while routine antibiotics are not necessarily recommended for other bite wounds, they are recommended for a bite to the hand to reduce the risk of infection and disability,” warns Stephen A. Kennedy, MD, an orthopedic surgeon who led the dog bite study.
Furthermore, researchers have also warned people about the importance of treating not only dog bites but human bites as well. Even though bites initiated by people are accounting for only 2-3% of all bite injuries to the hand, they can penetrate the skin and proceed to infect another person through saliva and oral flora, which contains over 600 species of different bacteria.
Cat lovers should also be aware of the dangers, and even though felines do not have the massive jaw strength of an adult dog, their sharp teeth may very well cause serious wounds with further complications. Scientists have assessed that around 30-50% of cat bites will usually make the injury situation more complex due to infections from their saliva. If this happens, you will notice first signs of infection within 3 hours after bitten by a cat (50% chance). With that being said, statistics show that a dog bite is less than half likely to cause infections compared to cat bites.
How to treat a dog bite (and most other animal bites)
When bitten by a dog, inspect your injury carefully and assess even the smallest wound right away. Dog bite of any size that pierces the skin can inject extremely dangerous bacteria into your system. If possible, wash the wound with antiseptic soap as soon as possible, and get some medical advice from a practicing professional. Signs of a serious infection would be:
- Increased redness around the dog bite area (erythema)
- Swelling (edema)
- Gradual increase in pain levels
Once any of these or similar signs show, seek medical attention immediately. All dog bites must be treated within 24 hours after the dog bite has occurred.
For the most effective treatment, record timing of events and have your medical history with you, including use of antibiotics. Your medical practitioner will assess the depth and size of the dog bite wound, test for the amount of dead tissue present, and how your tendons, bones, joints, blood and skin have been affected. Some injuries might need extra attention and will be thoroughly cleaned, possibly using surgical measures. You will be most likely prescribed an antibiotic which will lower the chance of the infection spread from 28% to 2%.
- S. A. Kennedy, L. E. Stoll, A. S. Lauder. Human and Other Mammalian Bite Injuries of the Hand: Evaluation and Management. Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, 2014; 23 (1): 47 doi: 10.5435/JAAOS-23-01-47