What is the mortality and morbidity of animal bites?

Updated: Sep 14, 2020
  • Author: Suzanne K Doud Galli, MD, PhD; Chief Editor: Arlen D Meyers, MD, MBA  more...
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Animal bites can lead to infection. Approximately 20% of dog bites in children become infected; the rate of infection of cat bites in children varies, but can reach 50%. [3] This consequence can be avoided, however, with appropriate treatment.

Other animal bite complications include sepsis, osteomyelitis, septic arthritis, and even death. Fatalities are uncommon, but an average of 10-15 deaths occur following dog bites each year in the United States. Most of these fatalities are children who sustain bites to the head and neck region. Even a minor bite to a major vessel can lead to hemorrhage in a small child. Skull fractures resulting from dog bites have been reported.

A study by Garvey et al of morbidity in pediatric dog bites, using data from a level one pediatric trauma center, found that 69% of patients required surgery. According to the report, which involved 282 pediatric patients (median age 5 years), surgical procedures included laceration repairs (76%), tissue transfers (14%), and neurosurgical operations (2%), with the most severe traumas consisting of laryngotracheal transection, intracranial hemorrhage, depressed skull fracture, and bilateral orchiectomy. No deaths occurred among the study’s patients. [7]

A Swiss study of dog bites indicated that wounds to the hand are at particular risk of developing secondary infectious complications. This may relate to the proximity of bradytrophic tissue, such as the tendons, to the surface of the skin, and a lack of natural anatomic barriers in the hand, which allows infection to spread. [8]

A prospective, multicenter, observational study by Tabaka et al indicated that among patients with dog bite wounds, those with puncture wounds or wounds that are closed during treatment have a high infection risk and should be considered for prophylactic antibiotic therapy. The study involved 345 dog bite patients, 18 of whom (5.2%) developed wound infections. [9]

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