Animal Bite Prevention Program
Terri Fitzgerald, R.N. - Coordinator
The goal of the York City Bureau of Health's Animal Bite Prevention program is to prevent animal bites that can lead to serious injury or rabies.
Animal bites pose a public health problem to the community. Bites can lead to injuries and infectious diseases, including rabies. Animal bites comprise a public health concern when viewed as a public nuisance, a health threat to the victim, or a potential source of rabies infection. The Animal Control Program involves the continued surveillance and appropriate epidemiological investigation of all animal bites reported to the Bureau of Health. Health Bureau staff provide education to community groups, children participating in summer playgrounds, and school students to prevent animal bites as well as to providers for timely reporting.
Rabies is a preventable viral disease of mammals most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. The vast majority of rabies cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) each year occur in wild animals like raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes. Domestic animals account for less than 10% of the reported rabies cases, with cats, cattle, and dogs most often reported rabid. Rabies virus infects the central nervous system, causing encephalopathy and ultimately death. Early symptoms of rabies in humans are nonspecific, consisting of fever, headache, and general malaise. As the disease progresses, neurological symptoms appear and may include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, agitation, hypersalivation, difficulty swallowing, and hydrophobia (fear of water). Death usually occurs within days of the onset of symptoms.
What you can do to help prevent the spread of rabies?
Be a responsible pet owner:
- Keep vaccinations up-to-date for all dogs, cats and ferrets. This requirement is important not only to keep your pets from getting rabies, but also to provide a barrier of protection to you, if your animal is bitten by a rabid wild animal.
- Keep your pets under direct supervision so they do not come in contact with wild animals. If your pet is bitten by a wild animal, seek veterinary assistance for the animal immediately.
- Call your local animal control agency to remove any stray animals from your neighborhood. They may be unvaccinated and could be infected by the disease.
- Spay or neuter your pets to help reduce the number of unwanted pets that may not be properly cared for or regularly vaccinated.
Avoid direct contact with unfamiliar animals:
- Enjoy wild animals (raccoons, skunks, foxes) from afar. Do not handle, feed, or unintentionally attract wild animals with open garbage cans or litter.
- Never adopt wild animals or bring them into your home. Do not try to nurse sick animals to health. Call animal control or an animal rescue agency for assistance.
- Teach children never to handle unfamiliar animals, wild or domestic, even if they appear friendly. "Love your own, leave other animals alone" is a good principle for children to learn.
- Prevent bats from entering living quarters or occupied spaces in homes, churches, schools, and other similar areas, where they might come in contact with people and pets.
- When traveling abroad, avoid direct contact with wild animals and be especially careful around dogs in developing countries.
- Rabies is common in developing countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America where dogs are the major reservoir of rabies. Tens of thousands of people die of rabies each year in these countries. Before traveling abroad, consult with a health care provider, travel clinic, or your health department about the risk of exposure to rabies, preexposure prophylaxis, and how you should handle an exposure, should it arise.
Dog Bite Prevention Tips
Domesticated dogs still have instincts from the wild. Children are at very high risk for bites to the head, neck and face.
- DON'T play aggressive games with a dog such as tug of war or wrestling.
- DO paw shake, fetch etc.
- Never approach an unfamiliar dog.
- Never run past a dog and scream. This excites the dog and leads to aggressive behavior.
- “BE STILL LIKE A TREE” when approached by a strange dog. DON'T' run. This triggers the animal's instinct to chase and bite.
- If knocked over, roll into a ball and “BE STILL LIKE A LOG”. Cover your face, head and neck with your hands.
- Report stray or strangely acting dogs to an adult.
- Avoid direct eye contact with a dog. Some dogs think it is a challenge.
- DON'T disturb a dog that is eating, sleeping or caring for puppies.
- Let dogs see and sniff you before petting them. Offer a closed-fisted hand.
- Always ask permission from the owner before petting a dog.
- “FEED” the dog a jacket or backpack if attacked. Use a bike to block the dog.
- DON'T enter their area like a fenced yard. Be careful around chained dogs and dogs in cars. They are protecting their turf.
- If bitten, tell an adult right away. Wash well. See a doctor. Remember and
- provide as much info as possible.
- BE KIND TO DOGS. Don't chase them, tease them, pull ears or tails or poke with sticks.
- DON'T grab their food, bones or toys.
- DON'T try to stop 2 dogs that are fighting.
SIGNS OF RABIES: foaming at the mouth (because of paralysis, they are unable to swallow their saliva); acting strangely; difficulty swallowing or moving; sudden behavior changes such as changing from ferocious to in a stupor.
What to Do For an Animal Bite or Scratch:
Report an animal bite/scratch to your local health authority.
York City Residents: (717) 849-2299
York County Residents: (717) 771-4505
Your local health department is responsible for rabies tracking and prevention and for follow-up of the human bite/scratch victim.
Additional Contact Numbers
York City Animal Enforcement: (717) 854-2762
York County Dog Law Warden: (717) 259-8651
York County SPCA: (717) 718-3109
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