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Health talk: Animal bites can be very fatal

File pic : A person bitten by a dog

Many people have been bitten by animals but few take that seriously. Many lives are lost every year. Animal bites are, thus, a significant cause of morbidity and mortality.

Worldwide, about 5 million people are bitten by snakes every year, the majority of whom are from Africa and South-East Asia.

Dog bites account for millions of injuries annually with the highest risk being amongst children. The health impacts of animal bites are dependent on the type and health of the animal species, the size and health of the bitten patient and the accessibility to appropriate healthcare.

Rabies alone causes about 59 000 deaths per year while snake bites cause about 100 000 deaths globally per year.

In short, common animal bites include snake bites, dog bites, cats, monkey and donkeys. In Zimbabwe, both snake and dog bites are quite common. Today, we will look at dog bites.

Dog bites

Dog bites are common in our country and what is puzzling is that many drugs are not vaccinated against rabies. Rabies vaccine is one of the cheapest vaccines on the market but many pet owners are just reluctant to get their dogs vaccinated.

Possible complications of a dog bite:

Nerve and muscle damage from direct injuries

  • Infection
  • Tetanus
  • Rabies
  • Scarring
  • Death

Managing dog bites

When one has got a dog bite, some first aid can be given as soon as possible in order to avoid infections or to stop haemorrhage. People can treat minor wounds by:

  • Washing the wound with soap and warm water, making sure to clean the area thoroughly
  • Running the wound under lukewarm water to flush out bacteria
  • Applying an antibiotic cream to the wound and then wrapping a clean bandage around it.
  • If the wounds are deeper or more serious, you can do the following:
  • Press a dry, clean cloth firmly against the wound to stop the bleeding
  • Seeking medical attention straight away where even antibiotics can be prescribed.

Many complications can arise from dog bites and among them are infections in the form of tetanus, rabies and sepsis.


If a dog bite pierces a person’s skin, bacteria from the mouth can get into the body, which can cause an infection. In some cases, the infections can spread to other parts of the body. Be very alert about the symptoms and signs of dog bite infections which include:

  • Swelling and redness around the wound
  • Pain that lasts longer than 24 hours
  • Drainage from the wound
  • Difficulty moving the affected part of the body
  • A warm feeling around the wound.

Signs that the infection may have spread to other parts of the body include:

  • Fever
  • Shaking
  • Night sweats


  • People can get rabies if a dog that has rabies bites them. The first symptoms of rabies include:
  • A headache, fever and other flu-like symptoms
  • Weakness
  • An itching or prickling feeling around the bite.

Later symptoms and signs of rabies include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, agitation, confusion and hyperactivity.

Please note that the incubation period of rabies generally ranges from two to eight weeks and that is the time between initial contact with the virus and the onset of the disease. Death from rabies usually occurs from two to 10 days after the first symptoms. Survival is  difficult once the symptoms of rabies have started to show, even with intensive care.

Prevention of rabies

  • Keep all vaccinations current of all the dogs and pets at your home.
  • Get vaccinated within a week of getting bitten by pets, please do not take time thinking. Usually, the available Anti-rabies vaccines come in three phases, one on first day, second after seven days and third dose after 21 days.

Let us be careful about animal bites lest we lose our precious lives.

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