TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. – It’s 85 degrees with a cool Delta breeze rustling through the leaves in your backyard. The barbecue pit is fired up and the savory aroma of the hickory dangles in the air.
The kids are running around while the grownups share deployment stories at the table. But then a teen sets off a firecracker and the next sound you hear is a loud barking noise followed by a child’s high-pitched cry. Your heart sinks as you realize that a dog just bit a child.
If you think this scenario is uncommon or improbable, think again.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, dogs bite more than four million people every year, of which 800,000 require medical attention.
At Travis Air Force Base, California, an average of 100 bites from dogs, cats, possums, bats, raccoons and skunks are treated and evaluated every year. Although dog bites are the most common, dogs rarely transfer serious diseases.
That’s not the case with other animals.
For example, rabies is typically transmitted through the bite or scratch of an infected mammal. Left untreated, rabies is an aggressive disease that carries a nearly 100 percent fatality rate once neurological symptoms occur in unvaccinated humans.
Vaccination after exposure is highly successful in preventing the development of rabies if initiated no more than six days after the incident.
The vast majority of rabies cases reported each year in the United States are from wild animals such as raccoons, skunks, bats and foxes. Wild animals usually avoid people, whereas an infected animal may attack if sick, feels threatened or is protecting its young or territory.
The rabies virus is a major public health concern. In 2017, Solano County reported only one case of animal rabies, but the state reported 231 cases, primarily from bats. Increased awareness and education are key to preventing dog and wild animal bites. Below are precautions you can take to keep your friends and family safe:
Be a responsible pet owner. Keep pets leashed when outside or in public areas. Remember, not everyone is animal-friendly. Some people get startled and react negatively to an approaching dog.
Train your dog to obey and respond to basic commands like sit, stay, come and no. A well-trained animal is less likely to act aggressively towards other people or animals. Ensure your pets are vaccinated against rabies and other infectious diseases. If you live on base, schedule an appointment with the veterinarian as soon as possible to register your pet.
Avoid stray and wild animals. Do not handle sick, injured or dead wild animals. Assume they have an infectious disease and keep your distance. Seal small openings around your house and living spaces to keep out bats, raccoons and other wild animals. Do not feed wild or stray animals and discourage them from seeking food near your home. Do not store foods outdoors and cover trashcans.
Report bites to the proper officials. Contact security forces, the local rabies control authority, animal control or the health department. Teach your children to tell you or a teacher if they are bitten. If bitten by a dog or cat, get proof of rabies vaccination from the owner. Clean the wound with soap and water and seek immediate medical treatment. The sooner your received medical care, the more effective the treatment will be.
Teach children about animals. Children are the most common victims of animal bites. Teach your child not to approach an unfamiliar animal, even if it appears friendly. Teach them how to behave around a familiar animal to avoid being bitten. For example, children should not pull the animal’s ears or tail, tease it or bother it while it’s sleeping or eating. Children should not get close to an unfamiliar animal or try to play with its offspring. Also, teach children to be cautious of strange dogs, and animals in general, and to get the pet owner’s permission to pet or play with the animal.
Remember, show respect and caution when interacting with animals.
For more information, contact the Public Health Flight at 707-423-5470, the Veterinary Clinic at 707-424-3010 or security forces at 707-424-3294.