CDC releases epidemiologic survey of dog bites in 2001

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Dog attacks are tragic events. Children are often the victims and a family pet is usually involved. News reports of dog attacks underscore the seriousness of the issue and the need for prevention.

As part of the Dangerous Animals section of the AVMA Annual Convention, July 20, Julie Gilchrist, MD, a pediatrician and epidemiologist with the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, presented findings of an analysis of nonfatal dog bite-related injuries treated in U.S. hospitals in 2001.

"There are enormous difficulties in collecting dog bite data," Dr. Gilchrist said.

She explained that no centralized reporting system for dog bites exists, and incidents are typically relayed to a number of entities, such as the police, veterinarians, animal control, and emergency rooms, making meaningful analysis nearly impossible.

Moreover, a pet dog that bites an owner or family member might go unreported if the injury isn't serious.

Dr. Gilchrist noted that 1994 is the most recent year for which published data on dog bites exist. Some 4.7 million incidents were reported in the United States that year and nearly 800,000 people required medical treatment.

In addition, of an estimated 333,700 patients treated in emergency departments in 1994, approximately 6,000 were hospitalized.

A recent analytic innovation has been the CDC's use of the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System-All Injury Program. Dr. Gilchrist explained that the NEISS-AIP, operated by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, collects data about initial visits for all types and causes of injuries treated in U.S. emergency departments.

The analysis includes every nonfatal injury treated in an NEISS-AIP hospital in 2001 for which "dog bite" was listed as the external cause of injury. Patients who were dead on arrival or died at the hospital were excluded.

One of the system's limitations is that it uses only data in emergency department records, Dr. Gilchrist noted.

In its analysis, the CDC estimates 368,245 persons were treated. Injury rates were highest among 5- to 9-year-old children.

Approximately 154,625 dog bites occurred among children younger than 14 years. While the rate was higher for boys than girls younger than 14, there was no significant difference in the rate of dog bites between boys and girls older than 15 years, Dr. Gilchrist said.

The number of cases increased slightly between April and September, with a peak in July.

According to the analysis, approximately 16,526 dog-bite injuries were work-related for people of all ages. (The full study was published in the July 4 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.)

Dr. Gilchrist said the study shows the need to prevent dog bites through educating children and adults, creating bite-prevention strategies, and promoting responsible pet ownership.