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Dog bites carry serious risk of infection

Dogs are wonderful. They can be affectionate and playful and can quickly become a member of the family. However, it is important to remember that dogs are still very much animals and can react to stimuli in unpredictable ways. When scared or in protection-mode, for example, a normally friendly dog can bite.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are around 4.5 million dog bites per year. In looking at who is most likely to be bit -- while it can certainly happen to anyone -- children and men are most at risk.

What are the risks of a dog bite?

Do not ever take a dog bite lightly. Even if the bite itself does not look deep, the risk for infection is high. In fact, infection happens in 1 out of 5 bites.

Here is some more information on the types of diseases a dog can carry.

  • Rabies: While this is rare and many dog owners do vaccinate their dogs from rabies, the risk is still there. Possible rabies exposure must always be taken extremely seriously, as the disease can be fatal.
  • Pasteurella: This is more common than you may think, as this bacteria is seen in more than half of all dog bites. Signs include pain and redness at the site of the bite. Difficulty moving and swollen glands are also signs of the bacteria. Those with a weakened immune system are also more susceptible to more serious disease caused by pasteurella.
  • MRSA: This type of staph infection can cause infection of the skin, lung and urinary tract. For some people, the infection can even spread to lungs or bloodstream. When this happens, the situation can quickly become life threatening.

Infection and disease aside, dog bites can also cause irreparable damage physically and mentally. Not only can the scar last a lifetime, the bite itself can lead to a lifetime fear of dogs.

How to try to prevent a dog bite

While you may love your own dog and know how your own dog is likely to react, you do not know another person's dog. You should never approach a dog you do not know or in any way disturb a dog that is eating, sleeping or near its puppies. The dog could mistakenly think you are a threat in some way and attack.

If a dog suddenly starts to come your way, do not move. While you may want to run, this could provoke the dog. Stay still and try not to panic. If the dog knocks you down, immediately curl into a ball and put your hands over your ears and neck.

It is important to also talk about dog safety with your children and never let your child be unattended with a dog. As we mentioned before, dogs are very much animals and while we may think they are safe, you can never be too sure.

What to do after a bite

Getting the area clean with soap and water is No. 1. You will want to also seek medical attention if:

  • The wounds are deep and/or will not stop bleeding
  • It has been 5 years since a tetanus shot
  • You develop a fever
  • The area becomes swollen and red

If you are unsure about whether the dog has its rabies vaccine, you will want to contact the local police department or animal control agency.

If the injuries from the bite are serious, know that dog bites fall under premises liability and you may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against the dog's owner to recoup compensation. You should contact an attorney immediately to evaluate your case.

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