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What should you worry about after a dog bite?

Most people immediately worry about rabies when they hear about a dog bite—but rabies in the United States is so well under control that dog bites rarely lead to rabies complications. These days, that's a problem mostly reserved for wild animal bites.

The specific danger you're likely to have to deal with from a dog bite depends on a variety of factors, like where the bite was located, how big the dog was and whether or not your skin was torn wide open or just broken in a few spots. A serious bite means may need plastic surgery, while a bite that barely punctures your skin can be cleaned and bandaged and may not even scar.

All bites, however, no matter how slight the break in your skin, carry the risk of infection.

The mouths of dogs are generally breeding grounds for bacteria and broken skin can let the infection into your system. If there happens to be any bacteria already on your skin or in the environment, a bite can also help the infection take hold. Deep puncture wounds are considered the riskiest when it comes to infection, particularly tetanus, because the punctures push the microbes deepest into your body.

The wounded area should be professionally cleaned and treated so that the risk of infection is minimal. After that, you should be on the watch for any new symptoms that appear:

-- Pus and fluid that oozes from the wound

-- Pain, swelling and inflammation to the point the skin is actually hot

-- Red streaks on the skin near the bite

-- Fever, chills, night sweats

-- Breathing difficulties

-- Muscle weakness or tremors

Any of these could be signs that infection is trying to take control of your body, which means that you want to seek additional medical care right away. You will probably need antibiotics as soon as possible.

If you've been bitten by a dog, you need prompt medical care in order to prevent the possibility of more serious problems. You may also be wise to seek the advice of an attorney before accepting any settlement offer from the dog's owner, especially if you aren't entirely healed.

Source: American Nurse Today, "Dealing with the dangers of dog bites," accessed Feb. 10, 2017

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