When we think about dog bite injuries, most people typically focus on the immediate bodily trauma caused by the attack—but that's not where the danger necessarily ends. Dog saliva may contain harmful bacteria and other pathogens which can get into the wounds and cause them to become infected—causing serious complications, illness, and sometimes even death.
Researchers claim between 15-20 percent of dog bite wounds become infected. When you consider that 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year in America, that means as many as 900,000 dog bite victims suffer complications from infection every year!
Let's take a deeper dive into the infections caused by dog bites, the possible complications, how to reduce the risk of infection after a dog bite, and how you can recover damages if you are injured or infected by a bite.
Common Types of Infections Caused by Dog Bites
Numerous types of infections may occur after a dog bite due to bacteria or viruses in the dog's saliva. Most of these infections can be treated effectively with antibiotics, but it may take extended rounds of treatment to eliminate them.
If an infection goes undetected or untreated, it can lead to serious complications—causing more extreme reactions like tissue or organ damage and life-threatening sepsis. A few of the most common types of infections include cellulitis, strep or staph infections, capnocytophaga, and rabies.
Cellulitis is one of the most common types of dog bite infections. It's an inflammation or infection of the skin and tissues below the skin caused by Pasteurella bacteria in the dog's saliva. When the bacteria from the dog's saliva infects this area, it can lead to redness, swelling, pain, and heat in the area of the bite, usually within 24 to 36 hours of the bite. Untreated, cellulitis can spread quickly and cause symptoms such as fever, increased heart rate and blood pressure, weakness, and numbness. In severe cases, it can lead to potentially life-threatening septicemia (blood poisoning).
Strep or Staph Infections
Staphylococcus and streptococcus bacteria are also quite common in dog saliva. Strep and staph infections obtained from bite wounds often cause symptoms such as boils, oozing blisters, swelling, and fever. Sometimes, it may have cellulitis-like symptoms. Left undetected or untreated, these infections can become serious and even fatal.
Capnocytophaga is bacteria found in the mouths of most dogs (and also many humans). Under normal conditions, it rarely causes infection. In people with weakened immune systems or those who consume large amounts of alcohol, it can generate some serious symptoms within the first two weeks of exposure. These include redness and swelling of the wound, blisters, oozing pus, fever, vomiting, joint pain, and more. Left untreated, capnocytophaga can cause life-threatening conditions like gangrene, heart attacks, or kidney failure.
Rabies is actually rare these days since most dogs are vaccinated for it—but it's usually one of the first things a doctor will screen for after a bite because this virus can be easily fatal for humans. Early symptoms of rabies infection include flu-like symptoms such as headache, fever, and nausea or vomiting, as well as insomnia, anxiety, and confusion. Left untreated, symptoms may worsen progressively to include partial paralysis, hallucinations, and death. Your doctor will want to have the dog tested for rabies, if possible, and will begin vaccination treatments for you if rabies is suspected.
What to Do After a Dog Bite
The first thing to do after being bitten by a dog is to wash the wound with soap and water thoroughly as soon as possible to limit the possibility of infection. Then, go to your doctor to have your wounds evaluated.
As with so many infections, early detection is key when it comes to dog bites. The sooner you identify an infection and begin treatment, the better your prognosis will be for recovery from that infection.
If you delay seeking medical attention and signs of infection occur that might have been prevented, the insurance company may try to use this information to reduce your settlement when you file a personal injury claim.
Who May Be Liable for Your Dog Bite Infection
In Washington State, the law holds the dog owner legally responsible for all damages incurred when their dog attacks someone, whether or not the dog has shown aggressive behavior in the past. This liability extends to any treatment of infections that result from the bite. There are some exceptions to the law, including cases of trespassing on private property or provoking the dog before it attacked. Additionally, if you neglect to get timely medical help after a dog bite and an infection results, the defense may attempt to argue that you didn't do everything possible to prevent the infection in an attempt to defer liability for those costs.
Damages You May Be Able to Recover If You Experience a Dog Bite Infection
Dog bite victims can seek damages that include reimbursement of medical bills and lost wages, along with compensation for pain and suffering, emotional trauma, physical disability or scarring, and loss of quality of life. If the dog bite is complicated by an infection, the additional costs of treating the infection and any additional time off work may be included in your personal injury claim as well.
Why You Should Contact an Attorney After a Dog Bite
If you've been injured by a dog bite, the time to contact an experienced attorney is as soon after the bite as possible. Taking prompt action after a dog bite helps to preserve evidence and witness testimony. It also ensures that your legal rights are protected from the beginning stages of the case when key decisions are being made about how to proceed with your claim.
A good attorney will evaluate the circumstances of your case, advise you on what damages you may collect, gather evidence and expert witnesses, negotiate skillfully with insurance companies, and litigate aggressively to ensure you receive all the compensation you're entitled to receive for your injuries. The legal team at Max Meyers Law has extensive experience with personal injury claims resulting from dog bites. Contact our offices to schedule a free consultation or call us at 425-399-7000.