Letterman bitten by “Satanic” dog

Tuesday night, Late Show host David Letterman showed guest Drew Barrymore a variety of scabs and scars purportedly inflicted on Letterman by his pet dog, Sully. Letterman joked that the dog is a  “half yellow lab, half-Satan” mix.

But dog bites are no laughing matter. According to the CDC:

  • About 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs each year.
  • Almost one in five of those who are bitten: a total of 885,000: require medical attention for dog bite-related injuries.
  • In 2006, more than 31,000 people underwent reconstructive surgery as a result of being bitten by dogs.

Who is at highest risk?

  • Children: Among children, the rate of dog bite–related injuries is highest for those ages 5 to 9 years, and children are more likely than adults to receive medical attention for dog bites than adults. Recent research shows that the rate of dog–bite related injuries among children seems to be decreasing.
  • Adult Males: Among adults, males are more likely than females to be bitten.
  • People with dogs in their homes: Among children and adults, having a dog in the household is associated with a higher incidence of dog bites. As the number of dogs in the home increases, so does the incidence of dog bites. Adults with two or more dogs in the household are five times more likely to be bitten than those living without dogs at home.

Only 15 to 20 percent of dog bite wounds become infected. Crush injuries, puncture wounds and hand wounds are more likely to become infected than scratches or tears. Many different kinds of germs are present with Pasteurella multocida and Staphylococcus aureus being the most common.

“Is a dog’s mouth cleaner than a human’s?”

This is a commonly heard statement. Is there any truth to it? Well, no, but it’s a qualified no. A dog’s mouth is full of germs- remember they are not especially particular about what they put in their mouths, and that their tongue is both their washcloth and toilet paper. It is NOT sterile- as the urban legend sometimes implies. So where does the idea that a dog’s mouth is cleaner than a human’s come from? Ironically, probably from the medical literature, which had shown a higher incidence of infections after human bites than after dog bites. However, recently these studies have come under attack, saying that the original studies did not differentiate the type and location of the bite, especially those called “closed-fist injuries” — the type of hand-wound suffered by a human being who slugs another human being in the mouth. A review article in the Journal of the American Academy of  Dermatology states: “Human bite wounds have long had a bad reputation for severe infection and frequent complication. However, recent data demonstrate that human bites occurring anywhere other than the hand present no more of a risk for infection than any other type of mammalian bite. ”

This doesn’t even take into the account the fact that dogs, unlike humans, can spread rabies. Fortunately, most pets are immunized against rabies, decreasing the risk of rabies in this country.

First Aid for Dog Bites:

1. Calm and reassure the person. Wear latex gloves or wash your hands thoroughly before attending to the wound. Wash hands afterwards, too.

2. If the bite is not bleeding severely, wash the wound thoroughly with mild soap and running water for 3 to 5 minutes. Then, cover the bite with antibiotic ointment and a clean dressing.

3. If the bite is actively bleeding, apply direct pressure with a clean, dry cloth until the bleeding stops. Raise the area of the bite.

4. If the bite is on the hand or fingers, call the doctor right away.

5. Over the next 24 to 48 hours, watch the area of the bite for signs of infection (increasing skin redness, swelling, and pain).

6. If the bite becomes infected, call the doctor or take the person to an urgent care center.

Mark Boguski, M.D., Ph.D. is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is a member of the Society for Participatory Medicine, "a movement in which networked patients shift from being mere passengers to responsible drivers of their health" and in which professional health care providers encourage "empowered patients" and value them as full partners in managing their health and wellness.

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