Each year millions of people in the United States, most of them children, are bitten by animals. Most animal bites are from dogs; cat bites are second most common. However, the risk of infection from a cat bite is much higher than that from a dog bite. Most bites occur on the fingers of the dominant hand, but children may also be bitten about the head and neck area. A major concern about an animal bite is the possibility of rabies. Because most pets in the U.S. are vaccinated, most cases of rabies result from the bite of a wild animal such as a skunk, bat or raccoon.
Tell your doctor how you got the bite. Your physician will wash the wound area thoroughly and check for signs of nerve or tendon damage. The doctor may examine your arm to see if there are signs of a spreading infection. Your physician will probably leave the wound open (without stitches), unless you have a facial wound. You may need to get X-rays and a blood test. You may also need to get a tetanus shot and a prescription for antibiotics. If the tendons or nerves have been injured, you may need to see a specialist for additional treatment.
Rabies is a disease that affects only mammals (such as raccoons, bats, dogs, horses, and humans). It is caused by a virus that attacks the nervous system. Without treatment, it is 100 percent fatal. Rabies develops in two stages. During the first stage, which can last up to 10 days, the individual may have a headache, fever, decreased appetite, vomiting and general malaise, along with pain, itching, and tingling at the wound site. Symptoms of stage two include difficulty in swallowing, agitation, disorientation, paralysis, and coma. At this point, there is no known, effective treatment.
If rabies is identified early, a series of highly effective vaccinations can be administered. That’s why it’s important to capture and observe the animal that bit you. If the animal cannot be captured, but must be killed, the head should be kept intact so the brain can be examined for signs of rabies.
Follow these recommendations to prevent animal bites and rabies.
- Keep pets on a leash when out in public.
- Never leave a young child alone with a pet. Don’t allow children to tease an animal by waving sticks, throwing stones, or pulling a tail.
- Be sure your pet is vaccinated.
- Do not approach or play with any kind of wild animal.
- NEVER disturb any dog who is sleeping, eating, or caring for puppies.
- NEVER try to separate fighting animals.
- NEVER pet animals that appear sick or act strangely. Call animal control.
- NEVER pet a dog, even your own, without letting him see and sniff you first.
- Children must always ASK PERMISSION from the owner and their parents BEFORE petting any dog.
- If the owner cannot control the dog and have it SIT nicely for the child to pet, WALK AWAY
- NEVER approach a dog who is confined behind a fence, within a car, or on a chain.
- NEVER TEASE any dog by poking at them through fences or car windows or reaching your arm through to pet them.
- NEVER approach a strange dog you don’t know or a dog who is not with his owner.
- NEVER RUN away from a dog that is chasing you. STOP, STAND STILL, REMAIN CALM, ARMS AT YOUR SIDES, be quiet and DO NOT SCREAM. Walk away SLOWLY FACING THE DOG BUT NOT STARING AT its eyes
- If a dog attacks, “feed” him your jacket, a school book, a bicycle, or anything else that you can get between you and the dog.
- If you are attacked, STOP, CURL UP IN A BALL LIKE A TURTLE, COVER YOUR HEAD WITH YOUR ARMS AND HANDS
If your dog, cat, or ferret bites someone, the animal must be quarantined for 10 days and observed for rabies. Failure to do so will result in legal action.
All other mammals, such as raccoons, skunks, etc, shall be euthanized and tested for rabies.
Sanitarians from the Cabell-Huntington Health Department will follow up to check on the condition of the animal.