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Beware of Dog Bites

Experts offer advice on how to avoid being attacked

SUNDAY, May 17 (HealthDay News) --They can be cute and cuddly, but even friendly dogs can be unpredictable, warns the American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP).

Some 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One in five bites requires medical attention. In 2006, more than 31,000 people had to have reconstructive surgery as a result of being bitten.

Children are particularly at risk. Among children, the rate of dog bite injuries is highest for those aged 5 to 9. Children are more likely than adults to receive medical attention for dog bites than adults.

"Most dogs are friendly, with no intentions to cause harm to anyone, said ACEP President Dr. Nick Jouriles. "But sometimes, they act aggressively toward strangers for a variety of reasons."

How can dog bites be prevented?

  • Avoid unfamiliar dogs or any dogs acting strangely. Just stay away from them if you can.
  • Don't run from, scream at or startle a dog.
  • Remain motionless if approached by an unfamiliar, possibly threatening dog.
  • If knocked over by a dog, roll into a ball, lie still and cover your head if possible.
  • Avoid direct eye contact with a dog.
  • Don't bother a dog if it's sleeping, eating or caring for puppies.
  • Don't pet an unknown dog without allowing it to see and sniff you first.
  • Talk to your kids about this information, and make sure they understand the dangers before they go out and play.

What do you do if you are bitten?

  • Tell children to immediately inform an adult and seek medical attention.
  • If bleeding, put pressure on the wound and clean the area with running water.
  • If you develop a fever or other signs of infection, such as swelling, redness, pain, a bad smell or fluid draining from the area, see a doctor immediately.
  • Call 911 if it is a severe attack, there is extensive bleeding or the bite is near the face.
  • Most dogs that have owners are vaccinated against rabies. If you are not sure, contact your doctor, your local health department or animal control. Children or adults may need a tetanus shot.

How can you prevent aggressive behavior?

  • Have your dog spayed or neutered to reduce aggressive tendencies.
  • Never leave infants or young children alone with a dog.
  • Make sure your child has had a tetanus shot.
  • Don't play aggressive games with your dogs.
  • Properly socialize and train them.
  • Immediately seek professional advice if your dog shows aggressive behaviors.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on dog bite prevention.

--Jennifer Thomas

SOURCE: American College of Emergency Physicians, news release, April 2009

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