MONDAY, May 25, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Dog bites are a serious public health issue, but many are preventable, experts say.
About 4.7 million Americans -- more than half of them children -- suffer dog bites each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"Even the friendliest dog may bite when startled or surprised. Be cautious; once a child is scarred they are scarred for life," said Dr. Gregory Evans, president of the American Society for Reconstructive Microsurgery.
"Most children love dogs and like to put their faces up close to the dog's face. Parents should never permit this. Injuries to the face and hands can be disfiguring or disabling and require prompt, expert medical attention," Evans said in a society news release.
Two-thirds of dog bites among children occur to the head and neck, and often require plastic surgery, according to the news release.
Last year alone, about 28,500 reconstructive surgeries were done to repair damage from dog bites -- a 6 percent increase over 2013, according to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons.
Educating children and adults about how to handle, train and treat dogs can guard against these injuries, says the American Society for Reconstructive Microsurgery, which has joined with the American Academy of Pediatrics and other groups to highlight the issue of dog bites.
Here are some of their recommendations:
- If you're considering getting a dog, talk to a veterinarian about a breed that will best suit your family. Socialize your new dog, train it with commands, get it vaccinated against rabies and other diseases, and have it neutered, which will make it less likely to bite.
- Never leave a baby or small child alone with a dog.
- Tell children not to bother a dog if it is sleeping, eating or caring for puppies. Also, instruct them never to run past a dog.
- Teach your children to ask a dog owner for permission to pet a dog, even if it looks friendly. Let the dog sniff your child first. Tell children to touch dogs gently and to avoid the face, head and tail.
- If you're threatened by a dog, remain calm and avoid eye contact. Stand still until the dog leaves, or back slowly away from the dog. If a dog knocks you down, curl into a ball and protect your face with your hands.
- If you suffer a dog bite, rinse the bite with soapy water and elevate the limb that has been bitten. If you have deep bites or puncture wounds, apply pressure with a clean bandage or towel to stop the bleeding. Wash the wound, dry it and cover it with a sterile dressing.
- Call your doctor, because a bite could require antibiotics or a tetanus shot. Also, a doctor can help you report the incident. If the bites are severe, call 911 or go to a hospital emergency department.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about animal bites.