Far from rare, associate professor of medicine and public health at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Martin Rodriguez, explains that approximately half of all Americans will suffer an animal bite during their life. While most minor dog bites heal quickly without lasting problems, some become infected, usually from the presence of five or more types of bacteria. Always examine bite wounds regularly and visit your doctor if the wound develops any signs of infection, such as redness or swelling.
First Aid for Bites
As when treating any traumatic wound, the first step is to stop the bleeding by applying pressure with a clean rag or cloth. Deep, severe bites require immediate medical attention, especially if you are unable to stop the bleeding. After stopping the bleeding, wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water. Apply a triple antibiotic ointment to the wound and then place a bandage on top. Always obtain medical care when bitten by an unfamiliar dog, as infection is not the only danger -- unknown dogs may harbor rabies, which is fatal without treatment. If possible and prudent, take steps to locate the owner of the dog, as he may be able to provide important information.
Signs of Infections
Because dogs usually inflict lacerations and crush wounds more often than puncture wounds, which are especially prone to infection, only about 20 percent of all dog bites result in infection. However, any bite that becomes red, swollen or more painful may be infected and require medical attention. Additionally, wounds that leak liquids or puss often signify infection. Systemic symptoms, such as fevers and shivering, also may indicate infection, especially when they accompany wounds that appear infected.
According to Rodriguez, approximately one-fifth of all dog bites require medical attention. Upon arriving at the doctor’s office or emergency room, expect to have the wound washed thoroughly and examined for evidence of infection or physical damage. For example, deep wounds may damage muscles, nerves, tendons, ligaments or bones, thereby necessitating additional treatment. Your doctor may take samples and have them cultured to identify any organisms present in the wound; however, most doctors avoiding doing so unless the bite looks infected. If an infection is present, your doctor likely will prescribe antibiotics to battle the bacteria. Regardless of the state of the wound, your doctor will ensure that your tetanus vaccinations are up to date, and administer a booster if necessary.
Some bite victims are at increased risk of serious health problems and should seek immediate medical attention for even relatively minor wounds. For example, people with compromised immune systems may lack the ability to fight off invading bacteria. By virtue of their young age, children also should see a doctor if the bite breaks the skin. The location of the bite may change the nature of your response; bites to some areas, such as the face and hands, are more likely to become infected than bites to other areas.