Roaming around in the great outdoors can be a rewarding experience. And to some, it can be a spiritual journey to get outside and hug a tree. However, there are some things in the wild you should never embrace, most notably the animals of said wild. No matter what size and shape they come in or how cute that critter is, wild animals can bite, and that bite can pack a mean punch, especially if not handled correctly.
It’s important to keep in mind that unleashed animals are not only found in the wild, but can also be on city streets – especially after calamities such as natural disasters. Whether you’re in the backwoods of the Appalachians or hunkering down in the center of the town, the potential danger of an animal bite is ever present in any environment.
Don’t Poke the Bear
As delectable as you may think you are, most animals do not want to eat you, so not provoking an attack should be your first option. Be aware of your environment. Animals are usually afraid of humans and will avoid us at all cost. Sound travels a good distance in the still wilderness or the streets of your neighborhood, so the mere act of making noise will alert any surrounding animals to your presence, thus causing them to flee the area. However, this vuvuzela technique won’t fly if you’ve ventured into the woods to flee creditors, revenuers or the shrill tirades of your significant other.
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No matter your reason for being outdoors, remember not to get too close to wild animals, and steer clear of any contact with their offspring, because they will protect their young with a ferocity on par with Kanye West’s affection for storming the stage at the Grammys. That baby cub may be adorable, but mama bear will not be far away and will not hesitate
Dog Bites Man
Sometimes animal bites are unpreventable (unlike forest fires), with most happening in a domestic setting. Of the three to six million animal bites that occur in the U.S. per year, more than 80 percent come from man’s best friend, while their feline counterparts dish out 10 percent of the bites. One in five dog bites requires medical attention; luckily, the mortality rate from these bites is still extremely low. If an animal does bite you, it’s crucial to identify the type of animal that did the biting. Hopefully it wasn’t wearing a ski mask or sheep’s clothing. The scale and size of the bite will vary greatly based on each specific animal, and this will influence the treatment. Bite wounds can take several forms, including open tears, deep skin punctures and mangled tissue. Small animals such as rodents, rabbits, squirrels and cats usually leave puncture wounds because of their sharp teeth. Larger animals will create puncture wounds but can also form crushing wounds due to their larger, flatter teeth.
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Stop the Bleeding
In general, these are the common steps in treating any animal bite. If the wound is bleeding, you need to stop the flow of blood immediately (it is always a good thing to keep these bodily fluids inside!). Use any clean cloth or bandages to apply pressure on the bite, and elevate the affected body part above the heart until the bleeding stops. Most wounds with mild bleeding will stop after 15 minutes of pressure. More severe bite wounds will require wound closures, but you’ll need a bit of practice and training to do this well. In these cases, it is more advisable to leave the wound open until professional medical help is available.
Once the bleeding is under control, the most important aspect of bite treatment is to minimize the spread of infection. Both domestic and wild animals harbor multiple strains of bacteria in their mouth. Don’t believe that old saw that claims a dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s, as real scientific research debunked this one. Animals roam and explore their surroundings using their noses and tongues to probe surfaces, including dead carcasses and feces. One bite is all it takes to transfer the bacteria picked up from that diseased carcass directly to your wound.
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This Is Going To Sting
After an animal bites you, be sure to remove any visible pieces of debris or clothing stuck to the wound. Wash thoroughly with warm water and soap for at least 10 to 15 minutes. Repeat this process several times to rid the area of any infectious organisms. Use sterilizing agents, such as hand sanitizers, alcohol swabs and iodide solution, on the wound, if available. The wound should then be dressed with antimicrobial ointment and wrapped with sterile bandages. Wash the wound and change the dressing daily while looking for signs of infection, which can include pain, swelling and inflammation. If you see signs of infection, you can use oral antibiotics to stem the spread.
Hand to Mouth
Pay close attention to bites around the hands. Your hands might be the most important tool you need to perform most tasks, and protecting them is crucial. Your hand’s intricate anatomy contains several joints and tendons, which have closed spaces that the sharp teeth of animals, especially cats, can penetrate. These spaces can be a breeding ground for microbes and can also provide a protective space for the bacteria away from the reaches of antibiotics. Seek immediate medical help if you suspect a deep infection in any part of your body, because any delay in treatment can lead to permanent damage.
Tetanus is one of the more dangerous bacteria transmitted through animal bites. It attacks the nervous system with a neurotoxin that can lead to muscle stiffness and spasms, commonly around the jaw, earning tetanus the “lockjaw” nickname. In rare instances, tetanus can lead to death by causing respiratory failure.
Tetanus need not be a concern if you are up to date with all your vaccines, since it is part of the DTaP (Diphtheria, Tetanus, and Pertussis) regimen of vaccines that most of us receive as children. In the U.S., most cases of tetanus-related death occur in non-vaccinated individuals. Be aware that tetanus protection requires vaccine boosters every ten years, so check your past vaccine record before you think about grappling with a grizzly.
Another serious microbe that you need to watch out for is rabies. Infected saliva is the usual rabies virus transmitter, enabling it to attack the central nervous system. When left untreated, the mortality rate of rabies is 100 percent, and by the time symptoms begin to show, it is too late for treatment.
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Though commonly associated with the classic image of a foamy-mouthed canine with crazed eyes, only 5 percent of rabies transmissions occur from dog bites. Bats spread most U.S. rabies cases, and skunks, foxes, coyotes and raccoons can also spread this viral disease. If one of these wild animals bites you, do not bite back—instead consult your doctor. The doctor, along with other health professionals, will decide on proper treatment that may be required in order to fight the virus.
Treatment for a person suspected of having rabies involves an injection of rabies immune globulin near the infection site to prevent the virus from spreading further. This is followed by four additional rabies vaccine shots within the following two weeks. So, for those of you who hate needles, you might consider staying away from bat-infested areas.
In some instances, an animal bite can cause a crushing injury, with or without blood. These types of bites, such as one from a horse, can cause damage to the tissue and bones. Before sending Mister Ed to the glue factory, you should inspect the bite area. Pay particular attention to damaged joints, which may have broken bones or compressed ligaments. Immediately immobilize the affected area with a splint or other stabilizing device to prevent further injury. Tissue pain will be almost certain, so use ice or a cold compress to ease distress and help prevent swelling. Seek immediate medical help if there is severe bruising and swelling, a sign of major damage to blood vessels, muscle and nerves.
One particular animal bite to be especially wary of is that of the snake. These types of bites not only require you to identify the animal but also the specific species of snake. In the U.S., there are four types of venomous snakes: rattlesnakes, cottonmouth snakes, copperheads and coral snakes. Every state in the nation has at least one species of venomous snake inside its boundaries, so spend some time online and read up on the identifying features that separate the harmless from the dangerous ones.
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Just like any other bite, you will need to wash the bite to prevent infection. Remove any rings or tight jewelry around the bite area, because swelling might occur. If you are one of the unlucky recipients of a venomous snakebite, try to stay calm, as counterintuitive as that
Snakebite treatments such as sucking out the bite with your mouth or applying a tourniquet above the bite are myths and can actually be harmful by delaying the victim’s transfer to medical help. Depending on the amount of venom expelled during the bite, the severity of reaction will vary immensely. Unfortunately, there is no immediate field treatment for stopping the venom from taking its toll. Snake venom can cause local tissue damage and in extreme cases may lead to death through respiratory failure. Therefore, you should find a medical professional that can administer antivenin as soon
Though many animals can appear friendly, one must remember that they still possess the natural instinct of biting for the purpose of self-defense as well as protection of their young. While most bites occur inside the home from your own pets (thankless creatures!), it is useful to know how to treat bites from all types of animals that you may encounter.
This article was originally published in BALLISTIC™ Summer 2015 magazine. Print Subscriptions are available here.