Health Beat with Dr. Alicia Arnold: Animal bites

Last week on our Health Beat, we discussed insect bites and stings. This week, Dr. Arnold discussed animal bites.

Meghan Kulig: What kind of animal bites are most common?

Dr. Arnold: Household pets are the most common animal bites in the United States, in particular dogs and cats.

Meghan Kulig: And what should you do if you are bitten by a household pet?

Dr. Arnold: For a very minor bite, you may be able to wash the area with soap and water and apply antibiotic ointment. If you have a deeper bite, any breaking or tearing of the skin, any bleeding, sign of infection, or the bite involves the hand, fingers or foot, you should seek medical attention. You may need additional treatment.

Meghan Kulig: One thing that people worry about a lot is rabies.

Dr. Arnold: Fortunately rabies is quite uncommon in the United States thanks to animal control and vaccination programs. Most cases occur from wildlife, rather than domestic animals. Animals that have potential to spread rabies include bats, raccoons, skunks, foxes, and coyotes.

Meghan Kulig: How is rabies treated?

Dr. Arnold: It is very important to seek treatment immediately if you have may have been bitten by a bat or an animal that is suspected to be rabid. If it’s left untreated or not treated soon enough, rabies is almost always fatal. Individuals who may have been exposed to rabies receive what’s called post-exposure prophylaxis which consists of a series of injections of the rabies vaccine and immune globulin.

Meghan Kulig: Is that those painful injections into the belly that we’ve heard horror stories about?

Dr. Arnold: The old treatment involved abdominal injections that were very painful and could cause side effects. It is still used in some parts of the world. Fortunately the newer treatment regimen that we have in the US involves fewer shots that can usually be given in the arm and is better tolerated. When given soon enough, post-exposure prophylaxis is extremely effective in preventing an affected individual from getting rabies.

Meghan Kulig: What about snake bites?

Dr. Arnold: Bites from a poisonous snake can be lethal. There are two types of poisonous rattlesnakes in Wisconsin, but bites from these snakes are quite rare. If you think you may have been bitten by a poisonous snake, seek medical attention immediately as treatment with anti-venom may be necessary. Don’t try to cut the area or suck out the venom by mouth, and don’t apply a tourniquet because you may end up causing more harm than good.


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