Animal Bites and Stings
Animal bites are wounds caused by the teeth of a wild or domestic animal
or human. In addition to mammals, many insects, spiders, and reptiles
can bite or sting humans. A person’s reaction to a bite or sting depends on
the type of wound, whether venom is injected during the bite, whether the
person is allergic to the venom, and whether the biting animal is carrying
a disease-causing agent.
Are Animal Bites Dangerous?
Animal bites can range from mild to serious. When the skin is not broken,
bites usually are not dangerous. Animal bites can be very serious if
skin, muscles, or tendons are torn; bones are crushed; a deep hole (puncture)
is made; or the animal injects venom into the wound or the wound
becomes infected by germs in the saliva.
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Who Bites and Why?
Between 80 and 90 percent of all bite wounds that receive emergency
room medical treatment in the United States are caused by dogs. Of
these, about 1 percent are serious enough to require hospitalization. Cats
are responsible for 5 to 15 percent of all bites. About 6 percent of cat bites
require hospitalization. Other reported bites are caused by animals such
as rats, mice, rabbits, ferrets, snakes, farm animals, and zoo animals and
vary in severity. Children between the ages of 5 and 14 are most likely
to be bitten, and very young children are most likely to die from a bite.
Between 10 and 20 people die of bites each year in the United States. In
developing countries where rabies* is poorly controlled, the death rate
from dog bites can be quite high.
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Dogs Dog bites usually occur on the hands, face, or legs. About one million
people per year seek medical care for dog bites in the United States, and many
more bites are unreported. Sixty percent of those bitten are children, so dog
bites are a major health problem of children. Dog bites rarely become infected,
and rabies in dogs is rare in the developed world. On average, 12 people,
mostly young children, die each year from dog bites in the United States.
Most dogs do not bite unless provoked or teased, so most dog bites can
Be simple guidelines that include the following:
■ Ask permission from a dog’s owner before petting the dog.
■ Do not pet unfamiliar dogs.
■ Do not tease dogs or pull their ears or tails.
■ Avoid bothering dogs when they are eating or sleeping.
■ Do not approach a dog that is protecting puppies.
■ Back away very slowly from a growling dog or wait calmly for the dog
to leave. Do not run away, as running stimulates the dog to chase.
■ Learn the warning signs that a dog may attack: flattened ears, tail
held low, lips lifted to expose teeth, growling.
Cats Cat bites and scratches are also very common, and they are more
likely than dog bites to become infected and require hospitalization. Cat
bites most often involve the hands, followed by the legs, face, and torso.
Rabies is rare in cats, but it is more common in cats than in dogs in the
United States. One infection caused by cat bites or cat scratches is cat
scratch disease, which causes enlargement of the lymph nodes* but usually
goes away by itself after about three weeks.
Humans Human bites are dangerous because the human mouth contains
bacteria* that can cause serious infection. The most common human
bite wound occurs during fights when one person punches another person
and cuts his knuckles on his opponent’s teeth. Children sometimes bite
other children or adults, and these wounds result from skin being caught
between the teeth. The condition can be made worse when people are
embarrassed about the bite and do not see a doctor right away, because
delay in treatment can cause an infection to develop.
Twenty-five species of poisonous snake live in the United States, and
at least one type can be found in every state except Maine, Alaska, and
Hawaii. Pit vipers, which include rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cottonmouths,
cause 99 percent of poisonous snakebites in the United States.
Coral snakes cause the other 1 percent. Worldwide, about 15 percent of
all snake species are poisonous to humans.
Venoms of different snake species range in toxicity, and a poisonous
snake does not always release venom when it bites.