Dr. M.J. Bazos, MD Patient Handout


About Your Diagnosis

An animal bite is worrisome because of concerns about infection in the bite wound itself and the possibility of rabies transmission. All animals have germs in their mouths that can cause infection. The animal involved and the location of the bite are important considerations. Bites on the hands, forearms, lower legs, feet, and face are more likely to become infected. The bites of cats are potentially troublesome. Rabies can be transmitted by many mammals. The bites of bats, raccoons, foxes, and skunks are considered high-risk bites for rabies. The bites of well-appearing domestic animals such as dogs, cats, and farm livestock are low-risk bites for rabies transmission, but your physician or health department should be notified at once. Rodents (including rats) and rabbits do not carry rabies.

Living With Your Diagnosis
With proper care, most animal bites do not become infected. Signs of infection include fever, redness and streaking at the bite site, drainage from the wound, pain, and swelling. If bitten on the hand, forearm, leg, or foot, pain with hand or foot movement is also a sign of spreading infection. Rabies is a very serious and often fatal illness. If there is any question or concern about the possibility of rabies in the biting animal, rabies treatment should be started. If safely possible, the biting animal should be captured and quarantined for 10 days.

The bite wound should immediately be cleaned with soap and water. Clean water should be allowed to run through the wound (such as under a household faucet). A physician or trained nurse should evaluate the wound promptly. Sutures may be required. The wound should be treated with antibacterial ointment with each bandage change. A dry bandage should be placed and changed when soiled, moistened, or at least once a day. Any sign of infection calls for prompt medical evaluation. You should receive a tetanus shot if more than 5 years has passed since your last shot.

The DOs
• Immediately clean the bite with soap and water.
• Seek medical evaluation promptly.
• Be concerned about rabies if the animal was a fox, bat, skunk, raccoon, opossum, or ill-appearing animal.
• Seek medical care at once if you have had your spleen removed.
• Notify your doctor if more than 5 years has passed since your last tetanus shot.
• Clean the wound every day and apply a clean bandage.
• Seek medical care promptly if signs of infection occur.
• Notify your state or local health department.
• Capture the biting animal if safely possible.

The DON’Ts
• Don’t ignore seemingly minor wounds, particularly on the hands and face.
• Don’t ignore signs of infection or fever.
• Don’t attempt to capture an irritable or agitated animal.

When to Call Your Doctor
• For evaluation of all bites.
• For signs of infection.
• If there is any question of your need for a tetanus shot.