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Animal Bites – How To Stay Safe

Whether you’re a hard-and-fast animal lover or can’t
stand the sight of them, it’s likely that you’ll come
into some form of contact with animals on a trip abroad. It’s
important to be wary of even the cutest of critters, especially if
they’re wild, potentially aggressive or are from known areas
of rabies or tetanus endemic. The best advice we can give you is to
steer clear of all animals as best as you can while you’re on
holiday and to avoid any unnecessary contact. However friendly they
look, you never know how a wild animal will react!

Dangerous Diseases

Apart from being extremely painful, animal bites can be really
dangerous and potentially lethal for us humans. The biggest worry
with animal bites is the transmission of rabies.

Rabies is a common problem all around the world and can be found
in all countries, except the UK, parts of Scandinavia, Japan,
Oceania, the Antarctica, Australia, New Zealand, Malta, and some
Caribbean islands.

Rabies – can be passed to humans in many different ways, but it’s usually transmitted through the bite of an animal. Unluckily for us, we’re most likely to be infected with rabies by man’s best friend: the common, domestic dog. Rabies is a very serious disease for humans and, if left untreated, will always be fatal.

Bat Rabies –  there’s also a very closely
related virus called the Lyssavirus that’s carried by bats.
This little-known virus is called ‘bat rabies’ and will
cause almost the same symptoms as rabies itself. You’ll find
bat rabies even in countries like the UK, which are usually thought
to be free from the rabies disease. If you come into close contact
with any bats then you should always seek medical advice because
sometimes it’s hard to tell if you’ve been bitten.

So, what can I do to avoid getting rabies?

Unlike with insect bites, there are no handy creams or
repellents you can buy to protect you against animal bites (link to
insect page). We’d say that the best precaution you can take
against rabies is to not stroke any unknown dogs, cats or animals
you encounter on your travels. Never try to make friends with a
wild animal, like a jackal, fox or a bat!

If you’re travelling somewhere with a known rabies
endemic, then you should treat all licks, bites or scratches as
potentially dangerous. Always go to get these checked as soon as
possible by a medical professional.

If you do think you’ve been exposed to the disease, then
follow these basic first-aid steps:

  • Wash the bite with water and soap or detergent for a good 5
    minutes
  • Apply an antiseptic like iodine, alcohol or chlorhexidine to
    the wound after it’s been washed properly so that it
    doesn’t get infected
  • If the wound is bleeding lots, then cover it with a sterile pad
    or bandage and apply pressure
  • Go for medical advice as soon as you possibly can!

Sometimes, you’ll need to have anti-rabies or tetanus vaccines after you’ve been bitten. Even if you’ve had the rabies immunisation, then after the bite you’ll still need 2
more doses of the vaccine to make sure you don’t get it. If
you’ve never had a rabies vaccine then it’s even more
important to get seen to by a doctor right away.

Infected Bites

Apart from rabies, you’re also at risk of getting a
bacterial infection after a nasty animal bite. Even though
you’re most at risk of getting bitten by well-looked after
domestic dogs or cats, there’s no telling what types of
bacteria or disease could be lurking in the jaws of any animal. In
mammals, there are hundreds of millions of bacteria swimming around
in their saliva, and lots of these will cause an unpleasant
infection.

You’ll know if a bite becomes infected
when:

  • it’s red and swollen
  • the bite becomes really sore
  • there’s pus or ooze leaking from the wound
  • you start to feel fluey and have a high temperature, which is a
    sign that the bacteria has reached the bloodstream

If you have any of these symptoms then you should go to see a
medical professional right away. In some rare cases, these
infections could lead to more serious ones like sepsis (blood
poisoning), meningitis or endocarditis (an infection in the lining
of the heart).

Even if you weren’t on your holiday, you wouldn’t
want to deal with a painful animal bite. Again, never approach a
stray or unknown animal while you’re out and about. Like you
would with any new friends you make on holiday, you don’t
want to invade their personal space! If you’re travelling
with children, then it’s also important that you don’t
leave them alone with any animals, even if it’s a domestic
cat or dog.

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