Who let the dogs out?

Animal bites remain a public health concern; first aid at home can prevent many infections

IT was a sunny Sunday afternoon. I was attending a birthday luncheon at a friend’s home in Novaliches, Quezon City when suddenly their newly birthed Jack Russel female dog nudged me on the left leg.

I don’t know if she was irked that I forgot to do the “doggie sign language” – two forehands down as if making an animal greeting.

I realized I was bitten when I was getting food on the buffet table. I checked my pants and saw a small scratch. A small amount of blood oozed.

Shyla Consulta, my friend who’s a nursing graduate, gave me first aid consisting of alcohol, water and soap. Oh, and garlic, too, for whatever antiseptic property it’s supposed to have. I managed to eat lunch afterwards.

Stray dogs

Rabies infection from dog bites remains a serious public health concern in the country with many stray dogs in the streets, particularly in the slum areas. The Department of Health (DOH) has partnered with the Department of Agriculture (DA) in the nationwide dog vaccination campaign.

The DOH initially earmarked PhP 69.5 million to augment the DA’s budget of PhP 40 million for dog vaccination. The financial assistance is expected to speed up the elimination of human rabies by 2016, a step toward the goal of having a rabies free Philippines by 2020.

DOH reported that the number of deaths from rabies is on the decline. From 300 to 400 deaths, in 2013 the death toll was at 187, down from the 213 cases in 2012; 219 cases in 2011 and 257 cases in 2010.

Increasing animal bites

The number of animal bites is seen to be rising for the past 10 years, with 522,420 in 2013 and 266,220 in 2010. Dogs account for 84 percent of the animal bites, followed by cats at 14 percent.

DOH said this could be attributed to improved surveillance and services that made bite victims come forward and seek treatment.

The agency said it is important for pet owners to be responsible by submitting the animals for vaccination and by making sure that they are taken cared of properly.

Under Republic Act 9482 or the Anti-Rabies Act of 2007, pet owners are required to “maintain control over their dog and not allow it to roam the street or any public place without a leash.”

Preventing infection

Aside from rabies, dog bites may become infected, which is why anti-tetanus shots are also given together with the anti-rabies shots.

Dog bites can result in a deep punch or puncture-like wound which can be a fertile ground for the chlostridium tetanus bacteria.

Though most dog bites are minor, one should not take the risk of it getting infected, which might also lead to other potentially life-threatening infections. It may be worse for children who are smaller, and in many instances, they get bitten in the neck and facial area, especially the lips, nose, and cheek. In adults, the hands, arms, legs, and feet are the frequent sites of bites.

According to experts, simple first aid treatment at home can help prevent developing subsequent infections. One can do the following:

Clean the wound immediately and thoroughly, preferably with warm water for a few minutes.

Gently squeeze the surrounding areas of the wound to encourage bleeding from it. This will help keep the bacteria from entering the wound.

For pain relief, over-the-counter analgesics like paracetamol or ibuprofen may help lessen it and the resulting inflammation, especially for deep wounds.

No matter how small the dog bite is, it is best to seek medical advice. Most hospitals have an animal bite section in the emergency room. The doctor will advice if anti-rabies and anti-tetanus shots will be required. Better to be proactive than face a near-death situation due to rabies and/or tetanus. Joel C. Atencio

Vital Signs Issue 73 Vol. 4, March 1-31 2015

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