Diseases & Conditions


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Animal Bites


Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States seeks medical care for a dog bite. Each year, 500,000 children get medical treatment for dog bites alone. Less common but more dangerous are bites from skunks, raccoons, bats, and other wild animals. Interestingly, the bites of these animals are less infectious than a human bite, although there is still a risk of infection. Most bites from animals result in some bruising, including blue or yellow discoloration in the surrounding skin. Usually there is some swelling, which is worse two days after the bite; after this period, it rapidly returns to normal. If swelling increases after the third day, the child should see a doctor. When to See a Doctor Parents should take the child to see a doctor if there is redness or streaking; if there is drainage of yellow, tan, green, or foul fluid; or if the child has a fever above 101°F. Treatment All animal bites require treatment based on the type and severity of the wound. Whether the bite is from a family pet or an animal in the wild, scratches and bites can become infected and cause scarring. Animals can also carry diseases that can be transmitted through a bite; about 5 percent of dog bites and 20 to 50 percent of cat bites become infected. Bites that break the skin and bites of the scalp, face, hand, wrist, or foot are more likely to become infected. In addition, cat scratches can carry CAT SCRATCH DISEASE, a bacterial infection. Other animals can transmit rabies and tetanus. Rodents such as mice, rats, squirrels, chipmunks, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, and rabbits are at low risk to carry rabies. If the skin has been broken, treatment depends on the depth and location, and on what is known about the animal. The area is first cleaned with an antiseptic, followed by an antibiotic. Stitches may be required, but it is usually best for these wounds to heal without being sewn up to prevent any dangerous organism from getting trapped in the body. Bites on the face, however, will probably need to be stitched to prevent disfiguration. Most animal bites will not require antibiotics unless evidence of an infection is found.

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