What Should I Do If I've Been Bitten By An Animal?
If you have lived in the area long enough then you know that The Hill Country has its fair share of wildlife. There are many things to consider after an animal bite. For one, you may be in complete shock that your dog of 10 years actually drew blood on you. Dogs, cats, and other furry creatures are animals and will bite if they are provoked or even unprovoked. Here are some basic things to consider if you or a loved one gets bitten by an animal.
Rabies status: If you have a domesticated animal that has known rabies documentation, you have nothing to worry about with regards to contracting rabies. Rabies is a concern if there is no documentation. If the animal was provoked, there is a good chance they do not have rabies but the only way to be sure is to quarantine the animal in question. If the animal does not die or develop neurological changes within a 10-day window, then there is no need for the patient to receive the rabies vaccine series. However, if the animal was unprovoked, has no documentation of rabies vaccine AND cannot be quarantined (wild animal or uncooperative neighbor), it may be prudent to obtain the rabies vaccine series from your nearest ER or urgent care.
Tetanus: Typically tetanus vaccines are good for 10 years. However, if there is an open wound, it is recommended to have a tetanus booster if more than 5 years has passed. Providing immunization with tetanus helps prevent lockjaw. Most pharmacies, urgent cares and doctor’s offices carry tetanus in the form of Td or Tdap.
Wound care: Depending on the site, depth and involvement of the wound, the wound may need different levels of care. As a general rule of thumb, bite wounds should not get closed by stitches since there is a high risk of infection. If the bite wound is actively bleeding or in a cosmetically sensitive area (face), your doctor may put in a few stitches to help with bleeding or cosmetic appearance but only after copious irrigation has been performed. If you get bit by an animal, be sure to irrigate the wound immediately to help decrease the amount of bacteria transferred from the animal’s mouth to your body.
Infection: 20-30% of animal bites, including human bites, cause infection. Therefore with a wound that is deeper than just a surface injury, it is recommended to receive prophylactic antibiotics to prevent infection. Wounds which become infected quickly and cause issues with swelling usually involve the hand. Some infected wounds get serious enough to need debridement in the ER or IV antibiotics requiring a hospital stay.
Be good to your pets and remember they have feelings too. Use good judgement when you are out walking in the neighborhood and stay away from stray animals that show hostile behavior. Whatever you do, do NOT pet squirrels in parks or get close to bats (they can carry rabies!).