If an animal bites you or your child, follow these guidelines:

  • For minor wounds. If the bite barely breaks the skin and there's no danger of rabies, treat it as a minor wound. Wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water. Apply an antibiotic cream to prevent infection and cover the bite with a clean bandage.
  • For deep wounds. If the animal bite creates a deep puncture of the skin or the skin is badly torn and bleeding, apply pressure with a clean, dry cloth to stop the bleeding and see your doctor.
  • For infection. If you notice signs of infection, such as swelling, redness, increased pain or oozing, see your doctor immediately.
  • For suspected rabies. If you suspect the bite was caused by an animal that might carry rabies — including any wild or domestic animal of unknown immunization status, particularly bats — see your doctor immediately.

Doctors recommend getting a tetanus shot every 10 years. If your last one was more than five years ago and your wound is deep or dirty, your doctor may recommend a booster. Get the booster as soon as possible after the injury.

Domestic pets cause most animal bites. Dogs are more likely to bite than cats. Cat bites, however, are more likely to cause infection because they are usually puncture wounds and can't be thoroughly cleaned. Bites from nonimmunized domestic animals and wild animals carry the risk of rabies. Rabies is more common in bats, raccoons, skunks and foxes than in cats and dogs. Rabbits, squirrels and other rodents rarely carry rabies.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children or adults exposed to bats, or who are sleeping and discover bats present, seek medical advice, even if they don't think they've been bitten. This is because bat bite marks can be hard to see.

Nov. 17, 2011