Rabies is a fatal disease. Bites or scratches from a rabid bat, skunk, raccoon, fox, coyote, or large wild animal are especially dangerous. These animals can transmit rabies even if they have no symptoms. Bats cause most of the rabies in the US and have transmitted rabies without leaving a detectable bite mark on the skin. All bites from these animals should be checked by a healthcare provider.
Rodents such as mice, rats, gophers, moles, chipmunks, prairie dogs, and rabbits do not carry rabies. Squirrels rarely carry rabies. Rodents can carry other diseases (such as plague).
Most bites from pets are from dogs or cats. Bites from domestic animals such as horses can be handled using these guidelines. Dogs and cats are free of rabies in most metropolitan areas in the US and Canada. However, dog bites occurring along the border with Mexico or during international travel, do carry a risk for rabies. The main risk in pet bites is serious wound infection, not rabies. Cat bites get infected more often than dog bites. Claw wounds are treated the same as bite wounds, since they may be contaminated with saliva.
Small indoor pets (gerbils, hamsters, guinea pigs, white mice, etc.) do not carry rabies. Puncture wounds from these small animals usually do not need to be seen by a doctor. This kind of wound rarely goes through the skin.
Most human bites occur during fights. Sometimes a fist is cut when it strikes a tooth. Human bites are more likely to get infected than animal bites. Bites on the hands are at increased risk of complications. Most toddler bites don't break the skin and don't need to be seen by a doctor.
If your child has been bitten, call your healthcare provider.
If you suspect that the animal that bit your child has rabies:
Wash the wound with water and soap for 10 minutes before going to your healthcare provider's office. Scrub the wound enough to make it bleed a little. Most animal bites need to be seen by a healthcare provider because they often get infected. Careful cleaning of the wound in the emergency room or doctor's office is the best way to keep the bite from getting infected, even better than antibiotics.
For wounds that don't penetrate into the skin, wash the area of the injury with water and soap for 10 minutes. Apply an antibiotic ointment to the wound twice a day. You can leave it exposed to the air, or put a Band-Aid on it if it's an area that gets dirty easily.
Give acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain.
Teach your children not to pick up sick or injured wild animals. Teach them not to pet strange dogs, try to break up dogfights, go near a dog that's eating, or touch a sleeping dog. Children under 4 years of age should always be supervised around dogs. Pit bull terriers and Rottweilers are especially dangerous.
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