Dog Bite Rabies Risk

There are 4.5 million dog bites each year in the United States. Dog bites can cause serious medical problems, ranging from mild skin irritations to infections and even rabies. Lower your risk of getting rabies by knowing what to do if you’re bitten by a dog.

How Rabies Affects the Body Following Dog Bites

Rabies is a viral disease that occurs in warm blooded animals. If you are bitten by a rabid animal, this disease will affect your central nervous system. The virus will travel through the peripheral nerves and cause swelling and inflammation of the brain. This disease affects children more quickly because the distance to the brain is shorter for them. When the disease reaches the central nervous system, symptoms become more noticeable. At that point, treatment is ineffective. Death occurs quickly, usually within a few days.    

Symptoms of Rabies after Dog Bites

Shortly after being bitten, you may experience flu like symptoms. As the disease reaches your central nervous system, more serious symptoms become present such as:

  • Mental instability, such as anxiety and excitability
  • Drooling
  • Convulsions
  • Loss of feeling and muscle control

Dogs that have rabies may appear normal in the early stages of the disease. As the disease progresses, they begin to act out, snapping and biting at their owners. Dogs may appear calm at times with saliva dripping from their mouth, and then suddenly attack. Each animal is unique and may react differently.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Rabies in Humans and Dogs

If you are bitten by a dog, immediately clean the area thoroughly with soap and water. This is the first step in treatment and will help get rid of bacteria on the wound. The doctor will also clean your wound and eliminate any additional objects. If rabies is suspected, your saliva, spinal fluid, skin and hair follicles may be tested and you will receive a series of shots over a 28 day period. Human immunoglobulin treatment will also be given the day the bite occurs.

The suspected dog will either be euthanized or confined for several months for observation. Two samples of brain tissue will be taken from the dog to confirm rabies. 

Risk and Prevention of Dog Bites and Rabies

Although rabies can be contracted in several ways, bites are the most common method. Most people are bitten by animals that are owned by their family or neighbors. In most states, it is mandatory to have pets immunized for rabies. The majority of dog bites in the United States are not serious and can be treated. Ninety percent of rabies cases come from bats, raccoons, and other wild animals. About 18,000 people get shots because of suspected rabies exposure each year. Only two or three human deaths from rabies occur each year in the United States.

To prevent pets from contracting rabies:

  • Keep them in a fenced in area or pen
  • Take them to the vet regularly
  • Make sure they are current on all immunizations 
  • If you think your pet has been scratched or bitten by a wild animal, get them to the vet immediately