Atuuilik: Dog bites can severely injure children


Every week several dog bites are reported to staff at Health and Social Services in communities in Nunavut. Usually the victim of the bite is a child, and frequently it involves a small child, under five years of age.

Some biting incidents result in injuries that are severe. Even minor injuries are serious because of the potential for infection with the rabies virus. Also the psychological wounds left with the victim can last a lifetime.

Small children are more often bitten on the face or neck, because of their height in relation to the dog. These bites can lead to permanent disfigurement or scarring and the wounds may become infected

Dog bites can be prevented through education of children and responsible dog ownership. There are several things that can be done to minimize the risk of a bite:

* Make sure your children do not tease dogs or throw stones at it. Tell them to leave stray dogs alone and not to approach a sleeping dog or a dog that is eating or gnawing a bone.
* Look after toddlers and make sure they are supervised.
* Warn your children to be careful especially when walking between houses where dogs are tied up and to avoid any dog if it shows its teeth or growls.

Dog owners should ensure that their dogs are vaccinated against rabies every year. Pets should be kept either in a home or pen, or on a leash or chain, and the collar and chain must be strong enough not to break.

If a bite occurs, report it to your health center, because a decision to provide treatment to prevent rabies requires a medical assessment.

The staff at the health centre will contact the environmental health officer, who will follow up the investigation of the dog. Usually the dog is quarantined (isolated) for 10 days in an acceptable confinement area.

If the dog is well 10 days after the bite, it could not have transmitted rabies. Killing the dog before the quarantine period is over can prevent the determination of the risk of rabies transmission and may result in a victim receiving rabies shots unnecessarily.

Rabies is a disease that attacks the nervous system of warm-blooded animals, including humans. Once symptoms develop it is fatal.

In Nunavut, the main reservoir of rabies is the arctic fox. Compared to other regions of Canada, Nunavut has a high rate of positive rabies cases in dogs.

The rabies virus is transmitted primarily through bite wounds. Preventing dog bites is one important way to prevent this disease in humans. Having your dog vaccinated with the rabies vaccine is another.

If you wish to have your dog vaccinated, ask your local hamlet office for information about the lay vaccinator program in your area.

We all have a role to play in preventing this serious disease.

This article was prepared by Dr. Geraldine Osborne, Associate Chief Medical Officer of Health. Atuutilik is a public service offered by the Nunatsiaq News and the Government of Nunavut.

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