Don’t Overlook Animal Bites: Risk of Hand Infection

With an estimated number of around 77.5 million dogs in the U.S (this data is from 2010 and the new number is probably closer to 100 million), it’s no wonder accidents are bound to happen by organisms that live on instincts alone.

Here’s the thing about animal bites: it’s not the actual bite that you should be worried of; it’s the high chance of infection that is often associated with animal bites. Contrary to what you may believe, cat bites have the tendency to be worse than dog bites. The reason why? Infection. Cat bites typically occur on the hand.

Cats actually have sharper teeth than dogs, meaning they are able to puncture our skin deeper than a dog can. Deep bites have more of a chance to reach a joint of tendon, which can increase the chance of developing a bacterial infection.

Animal Bite Infections Are a Bit Different

A bacterial infection caused from an animal bite – especially a cat’s – is typically harder to treat than your typical bacterial infection that responds nicely to antibiotics.

Back in February 2014, the Journal of Hand Surgery published an article that revealed 30% of cat bites to the hand resulted in hospitalization that requires an intravenous use of antibiotics.

The issue with an animal bite to the hand is that the wound will heal itself by regenerating new skin over the wounded site. What this does is prevent the bacterial infection from draining, leaving the infection stuck inside the hand.

The good news is that cat bites are much less frequent than dog bites. Dog bites make up a large majority of animal bites – roughly 80-90% of all animal bites in the USA. Cats make up 10%-20%, and other animals such as rats comprise a very small minority of less than 1%.

Caring For an Animal Bite at Home

If either a dog or a cat ever bites you, then you should follow these quick steps in effective treatment and infection prevention:

Blood Control – if the wound is bleeding profusely, then use a sterile dressing such as gauze to apply pressure to the site and stop the bleeding. If the site is not bleeding then clean it off initially with water or hydrogen peroxide.

Infection Control – the best way to prevent infection is by using an antibiotic ointment (i.e. Neosporin®) and then applying a necessary amount of sterile dressing.

Watch It – pay close attention to the symptoms of your wound over the next few days after the bite has occurred. If you feel the site is becoming more swollen, tender, painful, or develop a high fever then it would be strongly recommended to visit a doctor or hand specialist for prompt antibiotic treatment.

Dr. Golshani is a hand specialist located in Los Angeles and will treat any animal or even human bites with ease. Failing to respond to an infected wound could result in permanent injury to the hand.

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