Once Bitten, Twice Infected?

Animal Bites

Rohde Photo


(As seen on Fox 2 Detroit “The Ladies Room”)


Friday, 15 May 2009, 11:15 PM EDT


SOUTHFIELD, Mich. - What is the first thing that you think of when you hear about an animal bite? Most likely, rabies comes to mind. However, most cases of rabies result from wild animal bites (raccoon, skunk, bat). Thankfully, most pets in the U.S. are vaccinated, because most animal bites are from domestic pets! In fact, the most common situation I have heard from bitten patients is that they were trying to break up a fight between two pets…not a good use for your hands!


Sorry, dog lovers, dogs are responsible for most bites in this country, and because of their tearing teeth, dogs tend to do more damage to bone, muscle, tendon, ligament, and nerve. Cat lovers cannot rest easily, however, because cat bites are more prone to infection.


What should you do if you or your loved one is bitten?


Wash the area with soap and water and/or antiseptic and cover it with a dry, non-stick sterile dressing. If there is bleeding, apply pressure and seek medical attention urgently. Bites to the face, head, or neck should be assessed by a physician urgently.


Assess whether any “damage” can be identified: problems moving or feeling your fingers are major indications that structures might be damaged.


If possible, determine whether the animal has been vaccinated and if so, when. Identifying the animal’s owner/parent also is helpful, as these bites are reported to the public health department.

Call your physician or an appropriate specialist; she or he can evaluate whether there is any damage and can help you monitor for signs of infection, suggested by swelling, pain, warmth, redness, or pus.


Don’t be surprised if bite wounds that are not on the face are left open (without stitches); closing these wounds can increase the risk of infection. Also realize that your physician might want to see you again for follow-up within a few days.


Believe it or not, human bites are the worst of all when it comes to causing infection! These can occur from children or “fight bites” from a hand punching a mouth. Bacterial infections, hepatitis, syphilis, and even HIV can be transmitted via a human bite; these should be evaluated within 24 hours.


We know that in general, pets are great for our health; they even have been shown to lower blood pressure! Just don’t let your love for your little furry friend cloud your judgment when he or she accidentally mistakes you for a chew toy: see your doctor and get the help that you need.




Dr. Rachel Rohde is an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in treatment of musculoskeletal conditions of the upper extremities including the shoulder, elbow, wrist and hand. A native of Michigan, she completed her training at Harvard Medical School, the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, and Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City. She has published and presented her research at national and international conferences and recently authored a text, Acute Management of Hand Injuries. She is on staff at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak and is a partner in the Michigan Orthopaedic Institute.