What you should know about dog bites

There are no global estimates of dog bite incidence.

photo of dogs on grass
Photo by Sebastian Coman Travel on Pexels.com

However, studies suggest that dog bites account for tens of millions of injuries annually.

In the United States of America for example, approximately 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs every year. Of these, nearly 885 000 seek medical care; 30 000 have reconstructive procedures; 3–18% develop infections and between 10 and 20 fatalities occur.

Other high-income countries such as Australia, Canada and France have comparable incidence and fatality rates.

Low- and middle-income country data are more fragmented, However some studies reveal that dogs account for 76–94% of animal bite injuries.

Dog bite fatality rates are higher in low- and middle-income countries than in high-income countries as rabies is a problem in many of these countries, and there may be a lack of post-exposure treatment and appropriate access to health care. An estimated 59 000 people die annually from rabies, and bites from rabid dogs account for the vast majority of these deaths.

Who is most at risk?

Children make up the largest percentage of people bitten by dogs, with the highest incidence in mid-to-late childhood. The risk of injury to the head and neck is greater in children than in adults, adding to increased severity, necessity for medical treatment and death rates.

In some countries, males have a higher frequency of dog bites than females. Dog bites account for over 50% of animal-related injuries in people who are travelling.

Treatment

Treatment depends on the location of the bite, the overall health condition of the bitten person and whether or not the dog is vaccinated against rabies. The main principles of care include:

  • early medical management;
  • irrigation and cleansing of the wound;
  • primary closure if the wound is low-risk for developing infection;
  • prophylactic antibiotics for high-risk wounds or people with immune deficiency;
  • rabies post-exposure treatment depending on the dog vaccination status;
  • administration of tetanus vaccine if the person has not been adequately vaccinated.

Prevention of dog bites and their serious health consequences

Communities – especially children – should be informed about the risks of dog bites and prevention techniques such as avoiding stray dogs and never leaving a child unattended around any dog.

Health-care providers should be educated on the appropriate management of dog bites. Health authorities and policy-makers should ensure rabies control within dog populations, ensure appropriate supplies of rabies vaccines for potential rabies exposure in people, and develop data collection systems to further document the burden of this problem.