By Drs. Sally Robinson and Keith Bly

Bites or scratches from animals can become infected and spread bacteria to other parts of the body very easily, even if the cut does not look infected. Any animal, even your own pet, can carry diseases.

Because they bite more than 4 million people (mostly children under 13) in the United States every year, we will focus on dogs. Teaching children how to be safe around dogs, - whether they are family pets or strange dogs - can help prevent these injuries.

Teach your child the following tips to avoid getting bitten by animals:

 

· Never approach strange animals, especially dogs that are on a tether, in a car, or in a fenced-in yard.

· Never pet a dog without first letting it see you and sniff you.

· Never turn your back to a dog and run away.

• Never disturb animals while they are sleeping, eating or caring for their young. 

If your child is approached by a dog that seems ready to attack, tell them to:

 

· Never scream or run.

· Be still, with hands down at sides, and avoid eye contact with the dog.

· If the dog does attack, tell your child to do his best to put something, such as a jacket, backpack, bicycle or any available object between herself and the dog.

• If knocked to the ground, curl up in a ball, put hands over ears and remain still. Try not to scream or roll around. 

If an animal bites or scratches your child:

 

· Apply pressure to a bleeding wound with a clean bandage or towel until the bleeding stops.

· Clean the wound with soap and water and hold it under running water for five minutes. Do not apply antiseptic or anything else to the wound.

· Dry the wound and cover with sterile gauze or a clean cloth.

· Call your child's doctor. If an animal bit your child, she may need antibiotics, a tetanus shot or a rabies vaccination. Bites or scratches on hands and faces are more likely to become infected and should be examined by a pediatrician.

• Try to locate the animal that bit or scratched your child. Some animals may need to be captured, confined and watched for signs of rabies. However, do not try to catch the animal yourself. Look in the phone book for the number of your local animal control office. 

Go to the emergency room if:
· The wound does not stop bleeding after 10 minutes of direct pressure.

· The wound is more than half an inch long or looks deep.

· The animal that bit or scratched your child was wild or behaving strangely.

• A body part, such as a finger, is severed. Wrap the severed part in sterile gauze or a clean cloth and take it with you to the emergency room. 

Dr. Sally Robinson is a pediatrician in the division of children's special services at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. She teaches medical students about caring for children with chronic medical conditions. Dr. Keith Bly is a hospitalist and assistant professor of pediatrics at UTMB.

The Your Health column is written by health and medical experts at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. The column focuses on topical health issues that we believe are of interest to your readers. It is e-mailed every Tuesday. If you have any questions about the column, or would like to suggest topics, please contact John Koloen, media relations specialist, at (409) 772-8790 or email jskoloen@utmb.edu.