Animal bites are a health hazard worldwide. The impacts of animal bites are dependent on the type and health of the species, the size and health of the bitten person, and accessibility to appropriate care. Domestic pets are involved in most incidents. Dogs are more likely to bite than cats. Cat bites, however, are more likely to cause infection, because they are usually puncture wounds and can’t be thoroughly cleaned. Bites from non-immunized domestic animals and wild animals carry the risk of rabies. Rabies is more common in bats, raccoons, skunks and foxes than in cats and dogs. Rabbits, squirrels and other rodents rarely carry rabies.
This week we will focus on bites from non-venomous animals, especially those that are kept as pets. The most common complication from an animal bite is wound infection. Infected wounds can become septic if untreated and can lead to loss of life. Knowing what to do if you are bitten may prevent unnecessary complications from a bite.
The following steps should be helpful in case you or someone you know gets bitten.
COMPRESS IF BLEEDING
If the site of the bite is bleeding continuously, then there is a higher probability that a blood vessel was damaged. Compressing the actively bleeding wound will prevent unnecessary blood loss until you can access medical attention.
WASH THE WOUND
Animals are known to have large amounts of bacteria in their saliva. These bacteria can cause serious infections. It is therefore best to wash the wound with soap and water to minimize the bacteria presence. Avoid exploring the wound and wash with clean running water. Use at least 2-4 litres.
USE ANTIBIOTIC CREAM/OINTMENT
Application of over-the-counter antibiotic creams/ointments will help minimize the chances of infection developing.
GET A TETANUS VACCINE
If you haven’t had a tetanus vaccine in the past 10 years then you are at a higher risk of acquiring tetanus from the bite and you should get a tetanus vaccine at your nearest Health Centre. Persons are required to have a tetanus booster vaccine every 5 years.
YOU SHOULD SEEK MEDICAL ATTENTION WHEN…
• The wound is a deep puncture or you’re not sure how serious it is.
• The skin is badly torn and bleeding significantly
• You notice increasing swelling, redness, pain or oozing, which are warning signs of infection.
• You have questions about your risk of rabies or about rabies prevention. If the bite was caused by a cat or a dog, try to confirm that its rabies vaccination is up to date. If the bite was caused by a wild animal, seek advice from your doctor about which animals are most likely to carry rabies.
• Your immunization is not up to date.
• There is weakness or numbness to the area distal to the bite wound.
• Your wound is contaminated with dirt/debris
• You have underlying conditions such as HIV, diabetes, sickle cell disease, etc.
• There is excessive pain, swelling and/ fever after being bitten.
• There is excessive bleeding from the wound causing dizziness, weakness etc.
As we continue to share our space with both wild and domestic animals, we will continue to put ourselves at risk of being bitten. Knowing how to manage an episode of animal bite can prevent life-threatening complications. If you do get bitten and you’re not sure of the outcome, your best chance of improvement lies with seeing a doctor.