Rabies Exposure

What Should You Do If You Are Bitten By A Dog?

By William Bishop

Imagine you are jogging in your neighborhood and run across a stray dog; you stop to check on it, and it bites you. Or your children are playing in the yard with your neighbor’s dog and it bites one of them. You then find out from your neighbor that their dog has not received a rabies vaccine in over three years. What do these cases have in common? Both involve a dog bites, and there is the chance that rabies could be transmitted. What should you do now?

            What are the odds of a dog bite getting infected?  In the United States approximately 18% of dog bites will become infected with some form of pathogen, and there are over 60 bacterial species that have been found to live and grow in the mouths of dogs.2 These include MRSA, a form of Staphylococcus that is resistant to many antibiotics and can cause a life-threatening infection if it enters the bloodstream; Pasteurella, a bacteria (found in over 50% of infected dog bites) that causes pain and redness around the bite site and can progress to swollen lymph nodes and swelling in the joints making movement difficult; Capnocytophaga, which causes illness and can lead to death in people with a weakened immune system like elderly people, babies, people being treated for cancer, and those infected with HIV.2 Dog bites are also a source of transmitting rabies and tetanus. Tetanus would affect wounds that are very deep, and it would cause a rigid paralysis.2 Rabies is the most serious and fatal disease that dogs can transmit via dog bites.

            Since rabies is the most severe and if untreated is almost 100% fatal, we will discuss it more. Rabies is a viral disease that infects the central nervous system and causes the brain to swell which eventually causes death. It is most commonly transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal into either an open wound or mucous membrane (mouth and eyes). It is rare for it to be transmitted from a dog bite to a human in the United States since vaccines are readily available for dogs and since it is such a regulated disease; most transmissions to humans in the US involve wild animals such as bats, raccoons, and skunks.2 In Mississippi, there has not been a known case of terrestrial rabies (it is present in the bat population) for years except for one incident in 2015 involving a feral cat. It is the legal law in Mississippi that all cats and dog be vaccinated for rabies at three months of age by a licensed veterinarian, and it is encouraged that ferrets be vaccinated too.1 This means a rabies vaccine administered by anyone other than a licensed veterinarian is not legal nor recognized by the state. Rabies prevention for humans from post-exposure (a bite) includes an injection of human rabies immune globulin and a rabies vaccine on the day of the bite followed with vaccine injections on days 3, 7, and 14.4

            Dog bites can be range from just a small superficial wound to a deep wound with profound bleeding. Each bite should be treated according to how severe it is. All dog bite wounds should be washed with warm water and soap. If there is any severe bleeding this should be addressed and stopped first. Then a bandage can be applied.2 Treatment by a medical doctor should be sought. You should seek emergency care if the rabies vaccine status of the dog that bites you is unknown or expired to receive rabies post-exposure prophylactic treatment. At this time the doctor will report the bite and possibility of rabies to the local and state health department.


What happens to the dog if it bites someone?

  • In Mississippi, there is no distinction made between a vaccinated or unvaccinated animal.1 Any healthy dog, cat or ferret that is a pet and bites a person must be confined and observed for 10 days in a manner acceptable to the local health officer or his or her designee; any signs suggestive of rabies will result in the animal being euthanized, and its head removed and shipped to the State Health Department Lab for examination.3 Also during this period, a rabies vaccine cannot be administered to the dog.
  • If the dog is a stray or unwanted it can immediately be euthanized, and its head removed and shipped to the State Lab for examination.1
  • If a dog is exposed to a rabid animal there are different protocols for this.
    • If the dog is up to date on rabies vaccines; it will be revaccinated and confined under the owner’s control and observed for 45 days.1
    • If the dog is unvaccinated it should be immediately euthanized, but if the owners are unwilling the dog can be confined and observed for 6 months with a vaccine being given 1 month before release.1

Therefore, if you get bitten by a dog, whether it is your dog, a neighbor’s dog, or a stray dog, there are several steps that should be taken to protect your well-being. First, wash the wound with soap and warm water and then seek medical attention. Medical attention should be sought even if the chance of rabies is low to prevent some other bacterial infection from occurring. If post-exposure prophylactic treatment is needed the doctor will start this along with notifying the State and Local Health Departments. If the dog is a pet it will be confined and monitored by a veterinarian for any signs of rabies for 10 days followed by a rabies vaccine, and if the dog is a stray it will be euthanized and tested by the State Lab. For further information on rabies, contact your local health department.

Work Cited

"Mississippi Rabies Aware." RabiesAware.org. Merial, Inc, n.d. Web. 29 Aug. 2016.

"Preventing Dog Bites." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18 May 2015. Web. 29 Aug. 2016.

"Rabies Laws." Mississippi. Mississippi Board of Animal Health, n.d. Web. 29 Aug. 2016.

"Rabies Medical Care." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 23 Mar. 2016. Web. 29 Aug. 2016.