Reported bites decreasing

 


 

In our journalism and our conversations, we tend to talk about things in isolation, focusing on what’s happening right now and failing to connect the dots. The present outrage becomes our complete obsession; the countless frustrations that telegraphed it fade from view.

-- Frank Bruni, New York Times, 10/5/13



There is no dog bite epidemic 

 

Descriptions of dog bite injuries as “epidemic”[1] began to appear in the US in the 1970’s. Whether this was ever an accurate description is a matter of debate, but what is clear is that reported dog bites have dramatically decreased across the country since the 1970’s.

 

  • Here are some examples of the decline in reported bites[2] in a variety of US cities:

 

(Sources for this graph)[3]

 

It is important to note that there is no national system in the United States for tallying reports of dog bites. Reporting agencies and policies vary widely, but these policies typically grew out of an attempt to capture any exposure of broken skin to animal saliva, and to determine the vaccination status of the animal, as the main public health concern continues to be potential rabies exposure. This means that there may or may not have been any intentional contact in a given reported “bite” incident, simply contact with a tooth that broke skin. It also means that an unknown number of bites are not reported. We suspect that the reason for non-reporting of a dog bite is that the dog, and vaccination status, was known to the injured person, and that either the contact with the dog resulted in no identifiable injury, or that the injury was negligible. It is also reasonable to suppose that a percentage of bites that were reported do not rise to the level of needing medical attention.

 

 

Updated 26 November 2013

 

 

SOURCES and NOTES


[1] 

Harris, D., Imperato, P.J., & Oken, B. (1974). Dog Bites - - an unrecognized epidemic. Bulletin of the NY Academy of Medicine, 50(9), 981-1000. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1749418/ 

This article stated that the number of dog bites reported in New York had increased by 37% between 1965 and 1972. The following February, an Associated Press article appeared in newspapers across the country carrying a similar headline: “Dog Bites – Unrecognized Epidemic in the United States.” The AP story reported significant increases in 10 other American cities besides New York. 

[2] 

Berzon, D.R. (1978). The Animal Bite Epidemic in Baltimore, Maryland: Review and Update. American Journal of Public Health, 68(6), 593-595. Retrieved from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1653955

The supposed “epidemic” began to subside almost as quickly as it arose. Researchers in Baltimore, Maryland, one of the cities included in the AP story, reported that new municipal policies had quickly reversed the ‘epidemic’ trend in that city. From a peak total of 6,922 in 1972, by 1976 dog bites declined to 4,760. See sources for graph below for additional cities’ data

[3] 

Los Angeles County, CA

1972:

Strassburg, M.A., Greenland, S., Marron, J.A., & Mahoney, L.E. (1981, April). Animal bites: patterns of treatment. Annals of Emergency Medicine, 10(4): 193-197.  

2011:

Los Angeles County Department of Public Health: Veterinary Public Health. (2013). [Data file] Provided November 2013 upon request.


New York, NY

1971:

Weller, W.R. (1975, February 6). Dog Bites - Unrecognized Epidemic in the United States. The Miami Herald, pp. 14-A. 

2011:

New York City Department of Mental Health and Hygiene. (2012). [Data file]. Provided July 2012 upon request.


Chicago, IL

1978:

Chun, Y., Berkelhamer, J.E., & Herold, T.E. (1982). Dog Bites in Children Less Than 4 Years Old. Pediatrics, 69, 119-120.

2011:

Cook County Department of Animal and Rabies Control. (2010). Bites Reported by Pet Type Summary for Bite Dates: 2011-01-01 thru 2011-12-31. [Data file].  Provided 2012 upon request. 


Philadelphia, PA

1971:

Weller, W.R. (1975, February 6). Dog Bites - Unrecognized Epidemic in the United States. The Miami Herald, pp. 14-A. 

2011:

Animal Care and Control Team of Philadelphia. (n.d.). [Data file]. Provided May 2012 upon request.


Baltimore

1971:

Berzon, D.R. (1978). The Animal Bite Epidemic in Baltimore, Maryland: Review and Update. American Journal of Public Health, 68(6), 593-595. Retrieved from: http://ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/pdf/10.2105/AJPH.68.6.593  

2011:

City of Baltimore Animal Control. (2012). [Data file]. Provided May 2012 upon request

 

District of Columbia

1971:

Weller, W.R. (1975, February 6). Dog Bites - Unrecognized Epidemic in the United States. The Miami Herald, pp. 14-A. 

2011:

Government of the District of Columbia: Department of Health. (2011). Statistical Report for FY 2011. [Data File]. Provided June 2012 upon request.


Marion County, IN

1977 & 2011:

Marion County Health Department: Bureau of Environmental Health. (2013). Animal Bite Program Summary Report. [Data file]. Provided upon request October 2013.


Albuquerque, NM

1971:

Weller, W.R. (1975, February 6). Dog Bites - Unrecognized Epidemic in the United States. The Miami Herald, pp. 14-A. 

2011:

Albuquerque Animal Services. (2012). [Data file]. Provided upon request May 2012.