On August 1 2018, CBS News reported that a man lost both his legs to amputation after his dog’s licks lead to infection. In fact, the bacteria caused sepsis throughout the man’s whole body. At the time of writing, after several surgeries including the amputation of both hands, the man remains in hospital recovering. The specific bacteria, capnocytophaga, is only one of several found in the mouths of dogs, cats, and humans. Up to 74% of dogs and 57% of cats carry this particular bacteria. If that can happen with licking, imagine what happens when you get bitten.
Animal Bites and Infections
Generally, 10–20% of bite wounds become infected. This includes 30–50% of cat bites, 5–25% of dog bites, and 20–25% of human bites. The risk of infection depends on the nature and site of the wound as well as on individual patient characteristics and the species responsible for the bite. There is a high risk of infection in patients with asplenism, hepatic cirrhosis, diabetes mellitus, immune deficiency, and implants.
What Causes Infections from Dog Bites?
Infection from all animal bites is caused by bacteria. The bacteria can be found in the mouth or saliva of the animal, on the skin of the person who was bitten, or even in the surrounding environment. The bacteria then enters the wound after being on the skin.
It’s astounding how much bacteria lives in a dog mouth, enough so that even licking a superficial wound can complicate a bite. Beyond that, animal bites are often polymicrobial, meaning multiple species of bacteria are involved.
What Are the Symptoms of Infection?
Most commonly, symptoms of infection of a dog bite include redness, pain, and swelling at the site of the wound. It is important to seek medical treatment if any of these symptoms continue for more than 24 hours. Other symptoms of infection include the following:
- Pus or fluid oozing from the wound
- Tenderness in and near the bite area
- Red streaks near the bite
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Fever or chills
- Night sweats
- Breathing difficulties
- Muscle weakness or tremors
First and foremost, you need to properly clean and assess the wound. For superficial or minor bite wounds, thoroughly wash the area with soap and water. Then, cover the wound with a fresh, clean bandage. For serious wounds seek medical attention, as bandaging the wound can lock in the bacteria. Most infections develop within 24 to 48 hours, so it’s important to keep a close eye on your injuries during this window of time.
Your doctor might suggest a tetanus shot depending on your vaccination status, and if there is a sign of infection, your doctor may recommend intravenous antibiotics or oral antibiotics until the infection is resolved.
Complications Caused by Dog Bites
If the animal that bit you starts showing symptoms of illness or infection, you should contact your doctor immediately, even if you don’t have any symptoms. In addition to bacterial infections, dog bite infections can include tetanus and rabies.
Symptoms of the bacterial disease tetanus include the following:
- Swallowing difficulties
- Stiff jaw and/or neck muscles
- Stiffness in the abdominal muscles
- Painful spasms affecting the whole body
Thanks to the widespread use of the tetanus vaccine, tetanus infection is very rare in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), children should receive five tetanus shots before age of six years. Teens and adults should receive the vaccine every 10 years. If you are uncertain how long it’s been since your last shot, you should choose to get the vaccine after a bite. There is no cure for tetanus.
Rabies in humans is also an extremely rare occurrence in the United States. According to the CDC, there are only one to three cases per year. The symptoms of this viral disease include a high fever, swallowing difficulties, and convulsions.
Once symptoms are present, rabies can lead to death. If you’ve been bitten by any animal that shows symptoms of the disease, it’s critical to start rabies treatment immediately. After being bitten by someone else’s dog, you need to find out if the dog has been vaccinated and you need to see proof of vaccination records.
With a mild infection, you should feel better within 48 hours of receiving treatment, and if not, you should contact your doctor immediately. While rabies and tetanus are fairly unlikely, sepsis and other bacterial infections are a real risk. As mentioned above, just a dog’s licking can cause serious infection if left untreated.
If you have been bitten by a dog, you need legal counsel, and we can help. To learn more or to set up a free case evaluation, contact us today. At Mazow | McCullough, PC, we are seasoned personal injury attorneys who have successfully handled a number of dog bite cases for our clients.