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Dog bites pose risks for infectious diseases

A bite from a dog could affect your health in significant, life-altering ways. You could experience debilitating and/or disfiguring injuries requiring extensive surgery. You could experience post-traumatic stress disorder or other adverse psychological effects.

However, a dog bite could also pose a risk of infectious disease. The following are infectious diseases to which a bite from a dog could expose you.


When Clostridium tetani bacteria enter the human body, they can produce a toxin that causes muscle spasm, rigidity and eventual paralysis. This condition goes by the names of tetanus or lockjaw. It can cause respiratory complications that may prove fatal.

You can protect yourself from tetanus with vaccination. Full protection requires a booster shot every 10 years. If you are not current on your vaccinations, you may receive a tetanus booster following a dog bite.


Unlike most other infectious diseases from dog bites, rabies is viral rather than bacterial. Because of the widespread practice of vaccinating pet dogs against rabies, the risk of contracting the disease from a dog bite is actually quite small.

However, it is also the most serious disease that can result from a dog bite, almost invariably fatal. Therefore, it is important to verify the dog’s vaccination history if possible and receive prophylactic treatment if not.

Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus

Bacterial infections are usually treatable with antibiotics. However, over time, bacteria can build up a resistance to antibiotic medication. When this happens, antibiotics are no longer effective against the infection.

Certain strains of staph bacteria have become resistant to common antibiotics, causing serious infections that are more difficult to treat. An MRSA infection that travels to the bloodstream can become life-threatening.


Pasteurella infection is usually not serious except in people with weakened immune systems. However, it can cause a red, painful infection at the wound site. About half of infected dog bite wounds involve Pasteurella.

With the exception of rabies, dogs are often carriers for these disease-causing agents without becoming infected themselves. Therefore, there are no outward warning signs that a bite from the dog could transmit disease.

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