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University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center
Publish Date: 06/04/99
Media Contact: AHC Public Relations, (513) 558-4553
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Dog Bites Require Special Medical Attention

CincinnatióMore than 4.7 million Americans are bitten by dogs every yearómost of them children, according to the American Society of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeons. One-third of all homeowners insurance claims are related to dog attacks, and dog bite wounds are a major cause of emergency room visits in the summer. Alexander Trott, MD, professor of emergency medicine at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine recommends that all bite wounds be washed with an antibacterial soap and water immediately. "Even a dog bite wound where the skin is bruised but not broken must be watched very carefully for signs of infection," says Trott. Any sign of redness, heat, tenderness, or extreme swelling at the wound site or the lymph nodes means that the patient needs immediate medical attention. If the skin is broken, the patient should see a doctor.

Trott has developed standard wound management procedures and a physician's table showing what antibiotics work best for frequently found bacteria isolated from animal-bite wounds. He says that sometimes the wound must be cut open to effectively irrigate and remove severely damaged tissue.

Studies of dog or cat bite wounds have reported infection rates to be around 5 percent. Trott emphasizes that patients should seek immediate medical treatment for any bites from cats or humans, even if it doesn't break the skin. "Dogs' mouths are much cleaner than humans or cats," explains Trott. "Human mouths are like sewers. Patients with a human bite to the hand are always admitted for intravenous antibiotics because we know how terrible the infection can be." Human bites arouse special concern because that can transmit Hepatitis B virus and HIV.


Most patients with animal bites are treated with a tetanus shot and assessed for rabies exposure. Patients over 50, diabetics, or those with a lowered immune system are at a higher risk for infections from a bite wound. Bite wounds can be prevented by teaching children not to approach, touch, or try to catch dogs or cats and not to enter a yard with a pet while playing unless accompanied by an adult.

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