Lake Regional shares advice on treating animal bites

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Each year, millions of Americans are bitten by animals, some resulting in a trip to the emergency room. Lake Regional Emergency Department is raising awareness on how to respond if you or someone you know experiences an animal bite. 

“If you are bitten by an animal, there are first-aid steps you should take to reduce harm,” said Lake Regional Emergency Department Nurse Lacey Schmidt, BSN, R.N. “There are also specific steps to handle the situation if rabies is a concern.”

Mammal Bites

If the animal bite is minor and only breaks the skin, then basic first aid at home will likely be sufficient. Wash the wound with soap and water, apply an antibiotic cream, and cover the wound with a clean bandage.

“You should seek medical care if the wound is a deep puncture or if the skin is badly torn or bleeding significantly,” Schmidt said. “Also, seek treatment if you notice an increase in swelling or redness, as these are signs of infection. If you are behind on your tetanus shot, let your medical team know.”

If the bite was from a pet or stray, the animal should be quarantined and observed for 10 days. The victim does not need treated for rabies unless the animal exhibits signs of rabies within the observational period.

If the bite was from a wild animal, then rabies vaccination may be necessary.

“Do not –– I repeat, do not –– injure the animal’s head,” Schmidt said. “A lot of people kill the animal by injuring the head, which means the animal can no longer be properly tested for rabies. If it can be sent off for rabies testing, then the patient can potentially avoid needing the painful and costly vaccine.” 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, bites from squirrels, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, chipmunks, rats, mice, other small rodents, rabbits and hares almost never require the rabies vaccine. Bats, raccoons, skunks, foxes and most other carnivores are generally regarded as rabid unless the animal is proven negative by a lab test.

“It is also important to note that if you wake up and find a bat in your house, it is recommended to get a rabies vaccine because you don't always know if you've been bitten by the bat,” Schmidt said.

Snake Bites

Most snakes in the United States are not venomous, but if unsure, treat the snakebite as if it is venomous. Symptoms vary depending on the snake that bit you; however, always call 911 if it could be venomous. Remove any jewelry or constricting clothing because the area surrounding the bite might swell. Note the time of the bite, and keep calm because movement can make the venom travel more quickly throughout your body. If you are alone, only move if you need to get to a safer space, and then wait for the ambulance to arrive. It is safer to have someone carry you. If possible, have someone bring soap and water to wash the bite. Do not kill or handle the snake –– medical staff do not need to see the snake.

“If you are bitten by a snake, do not cut into the bite,” Schmidt said. “Do not apply a tourniquet or a cold compress. Also, do not attempt to suck out the venom.”

She added people with snakebites are usually kept in the Emergency Department for evaluation for a few hours.

“If the edema, or swelling, from the bite moves up the limb and past the next joint, we will then inject antivenom into the victim, and continue to watch the surrounding tissue of the bite for change or worsening of the condition,” Schmidt said.

Neither reptiles, such as snakes and turtles, nor fish, birds, insects and amphibians can get or spread rabies.

Lake Regional Health System provides comprehensive health care services to residents and visitors throughout the mid-Missouri region. The hospital is a Level II Stroke Center, Level II STEMI (heart attack) Center and Level III Trauma Center. Lake Regional also provides a wide range of specialties, including cancer care, heart care, orthopedics and women’s health. Plus, Lake Regional operates primary care clinics, Express Care clinics, rehab therapy clinics, programs for home health and hospice, and retail pharmacies. To learn more, visit lakeregional.com.