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What you should do

if you've been

Bitten by an Animal

Animal Bites
By James Broomfield, MD

An animal bite is an injury that is the result of the flesh of a person
being caught between the teeth of the upper and lower jaws of an
animal. Animal bites do not include insect bites.

What are the signs and symptoms of an animal bite?

The signs and symptoms of an animal bite can vary. The bite can look
like a surface scratch with little or no break in the skin.

An animal bite can bleed a little or a lot. The bite can tear or puncture
the skin. There can also be crush injuries with some animal bites.

If the bite becomes infected, the following symptoms may occur:
fever and chills increasing pain pus draining from the wound redness
and warmth at the site of the bite redness around the site, with red
streaks radiating outward swelling around the wound

What are the causes and risks of the injury?

The most common animal bite is a dog bite. Cat bites are the second
most common. Cat bites can be more serious because they produce
puncture-type wounds. Stray animals and wild animals, including bats,
cause a number of bites each year. Any animal that bites a human
should be confined and the proper authorities
notified. The animal should be tested for rabies.

What can be done to prevent the injury?

Most animal bites can be prevented by following these guidelines.
Teach children not to approach any unfamiliar pets or wild animals.
Avoid approaching an animal aggressively. Don't tease animals.
Don't feed or play with wild animals, including squirrels and raccoons.
Don't stick fingers into animal cages at pet stores, shows, or zoos.
When an animal is caring for its offspring, leave it alone.

How is the injury recognized?

A history of the animal bite from the individual or witnesses can provide
a clue to the diagnosis. Often the bite can be diagnosed from the tooth
marks on the person's skin.

What are the treatments for the animal bite?

There are three things to consider when treating animal bites:
preventing infection preventing rabies stopping bleeding

If bleeding is not severe, the wound should be washed with mild,
soapy water for 3 to 5 minutes. It should then be covered with a clean
dressing. Bleeding may be controlled by applying direct pressure
over the wound with a clean, dry cloth. Elevation of the
area also helps control the bleeding.

If the wound does not need stitches, it should be observed for the
next 24 to 48 hours for signs of infection. If the wound becomes
infected, a healthcare professional should be consulted. The provider
should also be contacted if the person has not had a
tetanus shot in the past 5 years.

Emergency care should be sought immediately in these situations.
There are serious injuries. The person is suffering from severe
blood loss. There are many bites. A significant amount of flesh has
been lost. The person has been bitten by a strange animal.

The healthcare provider may consider the following treatment options:
antibiotics to prevent or treat infection debridement, or surgical
removal of damaged or infected tissue irrigation, a procedure that
floods the bite area to wash out foreign objects pain medicines
sutures to close the wound X-rays to look for bone fractures or
foreign bodies left in the wound

Rabies is very rare but can be fatal. It is transmitted in the saliva of
rabid bats, skunks, raccoons, and foxes. Pets that have not received
rabies shots can also carry the rabies virus. There are two ways to
tell if an animal has rabies. The first way is to capture the animal
and observe it for 10 days. If the animal does not become sick in
that time, it is not rabid. The second way is to destroy the animal
and examine its brain. There is no cure for rabies once it has developed.
The rabies vaccine can be effective when given before symptoms develop.

What are the side effects of the treatments?

With any wound, there are always the risks of infection and bleeding.
In some cases, sutures are not used because they may trap bacteria
inside. All antibiotics can cause allergic reactions, gastrointestinal
distress, or other side effects.

What happens after treatment for the injury?

Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the
healthcare provider.

Copyright 2001 HealthAnswers, Inc.

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