Facebook Twitter

WHEN A DOG (OR ANY OTHER ANIMAL) BITES, CLEAN THE WOUND WELL AND CALL A DOCTOR

SHARE WHEN A DOG (OR ANY OTHER ANIMAL) BITES, CLEAN THE WOUND WELL AND CALL A DOCTOR

Animal bites represent a rather significant health problem. Some experts estimate that at least 1 million Americans are bitten by dogs yearly and that the actual number may extend to 2 million bites. Sixty to 90 percent of the animal bites in the United States come from dogs.

Check the biting victim's airway, breathing and circulation. If the animal was large, search for bone fractures. Clean the wound with simple soap and water - they do a good job of removing the bacteria and are also effective against the rabies virus.After cleansing the wound, apply a bandage and seek medical attention. If the risk of rabies is significant, the animal needs to be observed. However, if the animal cannot be captured alive and is killed or is already dead, its head should be refrigerated and sent to the local health department for analysis.

Bites from cows and horses usually don't break the skin but can cause massive soft-tissue damage. Putting ice on those wounds right away is one of the most effective treatments.

Scrubbing can traumatize tissues, so avoid it whenever possible. Washing with soap and water is intended to remove bacteria. The presence of even sterile foreign bodies in a wound increases the risk of infection, so it's extremely important to try to remove all foreign matter.

Puncture wounds are difficult to irrigate properly because they frequently seal up right after the injury. When you try to irrigate them, the water often doesn't even come out, and all you've done is increase tissue swelling.

Most people worry excessively about rabies when animal bites cause twice as many cases of tetanus as rabies. Even so, animal bites account for only 4 percent of tetanus cases, so it's safe to say that bite victims are not at high risk. Most people who grew up in the United States have received routine immunization, but many non-natives - especially those from the Third World - have not.

The risk of bacterial infection is high in hand, wrist and foot wounds. Nearly a third of all hand wounds due to dog bites become infected. The infection rate for hand wounds due to cat bites is even higher - close to 50 percent.

Bites over a joint and puncture wounds have a high infection rate, probably because they are so difficult to clean out.

There are three ways to close an animal-bite wound. One is to let the wound heal by itself, which takes weeks and leaves a large scar. The only advantage in letting it heal by itself is that there is less chance for infection.

Another alternative is to have a doctor put a sterile dressing on the wound, leave it open for two to three days and then examine it for signs of infection. A wound that's left open for two or three days and then closed will heal as fast as a wound that is sutured (stitched) on the first day.

The third option is for a doctor to suture the wound immediately. Wounds that have sutures in them from the start have been shown to be more likely to become infected than wounds that don't. For cosmetic reasons, wounds to the face or scalp should be closed early.

(SB) Alton Thygerson is a professor of health sciences at Brigham Young University.