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Animal Bites of Humans


All animal bites must be investigated in Indiana. The investigation should include, at a minimum, sufficient information to complete the Official Indiana Animal Bite Report form. In general, data on the biting animal, the victim, the circumstances of the bite, the name of the animal's owner (if any), and the rabies vaccination status of the biting animal should collected. The circumstances of the bite are especially important for determining if the bite was provoked. Provoked bites are considered to be of lower rabies risk, all things being equal, than an unprovoked bite.


The most effective way to reduce the number of animal bites is to pass and enforce animal control laws and to educate the public, and especially children, about potentially high risk situations. Interactions with unfamiliar pets, rough treatment of or threatening behavior toward any animal, and contact with wild animals should be avoided in order to reduce bite incidents.


Most animal bites wounds that come to the attention of medical and/or public health practitioners will consist of puncture wounds, scratches and abrasions. Severe attacks may produce crushing injuries to bones, especially in children.


More than 30 species of bacteria and at least 1 virus have been isolated from dog or cat bite wounds. Most of these organisms are part of the normal flora of animal mouths. Monkey bites may be especially dangerous and should be attended to quickly.

Vigorously wash bite wounds with soap and water for 15 minutes. This is probably the most important step in preventing rabies and other infections.

Give a tetanus booster to previously immunized victims if more than 5 years have elapsed since the last administration. Begin primary tetanus series in the unvaccinated.

See Rabies Section of this series for information on post-exposure prophylaxis for that disease.

Because up to 85% of bite wounds harbor pathogens, prophylactic antibiotic treatment may be helpful. Except for facial and very severe wounds, suturing of most bite wounds is not indicated.


An animal bite is a reportable health event. The animal bite report should be filled out completely. This form is available at: www.in.gov/boah/2337.htm.

A rapid investigation of the bite should be completed in order to identify and capture, if possible, the biting animal and to determine whether rabies post-exposure prophylaxis for the victim is needed.

Immediate cleansing of the wound is the most important means of avoiding post-bite infections, including rabies.

Although the bites of rodents, rabbits, etc. are at extremely low risk for transmitting rabies, such bites still need to be attended to in order to prevent infections with other diseases.

Bat "bites" or exposures may not always be apparent. See Rabies Section for more information.