Animal bites may quickly lead to serious infections, tetanus

Each year, more than 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs and more than 400,000 people are bitten by cats across the country, and many of these incidents take place in California. Though cat bites account for fewer animal bites, they have a greater risk of being infected. Approximately 50 percent of cat bites will become infected while only 10 to 15 percent of dog bites result in infection. Experts believe this could be because cats have sharp teeth that cause deep punctures.

When an animal bite punctures the skin, bacteria that are in the animal's mouth or saliva, in the environment or on the victim's skin may enter the wound. Once inside the body, the bacteria can quickly multiply, causing inflammation and swelling. If an infected bite is not treated promptly, a condition called tetanus may develop. Tetanus is a bacterial disease that attacks the nervous system and causes muscles to become stiff and rigid.

When an animal bite is minor, victims should wash the wound immediately, apply antibiotic cream and carefully bandage the area. Cold compresses can help reduce swelling. They should check the wound regularly over the next 24 hours to look for signs of infection. These signs include redness, pus or oozing fluid, red streaks near the bite, fever or swollen lymph nodes. If signs of infection are present, victims should contact a doctor immediately. Those who receive a serious injury from an animal bite should go to the emergency room immediately.

Pet owners have the responsibility to ensure that those around their animals are safe. This means properly training the animal and keeping the animal on a leash on public property. If they fail to do so, they might be held financially responsible for any ensuing harm. Victims might want to meet with an attorney to see how to go about seeking compensation for their medical expenses and other losses.

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