Nearly 30 years ago the dog bite problem was characterized as a public health “epidemic”. Since then, the topic of dog bites has received much attention both in the scientific literature and popular press. The focus in many reports has been about the circumstances in which dog bites occur, characteristics of the biting dogs and the person bitten, public health costs, medical treatment, etc. Scores of statistics have emerged on this topic. The most useful show that children are the victims in a disproportional amount of dog bites, particularly boys under the age of 10, and that the German Shepherd dog is the breed involved in most instances. These basic results hold for most western European countries, and Australia and New Zealand.
One shortcoming is that the above findings are based on statistics generated from a 1994 study; hence, they are rather old, and in an attempt to discover if the same statistical trends hold, research was undertaken and reported recently in an article entitled Dog bites:still problem? (J. Gilchrist, et al. Injury Prevention, 2008, 14, 296-301).
In this new study, the research methodology consisted of collecting data from nearly 10,000 households via telephone interview between the years of 2001 – 2003. Respondents were identified according to their age and gender, and inquiry was made about their income level, educational attainment, number of dogs in the household, if children were present in the household, if anyone had been bitten by a dog in the past 12 months, and if medical care was necessary.
- Between 2001- 2003, approximately 4.5 million Americans were bitten by dogs annually. This represents approximately 1.5% of the US population. 885,000 of dog bite victims (19%) sought medical care for their injury. These results approximate those from 1994.
- There was a 47% decrease in bite frequencies to children children under 14 years of age, compared with 1994 data. This decrease was particularly evident in boys, and children between 0 – 4 years.
- For children, the bite rate was highest in the age group of 5-9 years (incident rate of 18.7 per 1000) and for adults the highest incidence rate occurred for the age group 18-24 years (30.2 per 1000).
- Bite rates for adults were similar to 1994 data. In addition, results showed that bite rates among adults decreased significantly with increasing age.
- For both children and adults, having one or more dogs in the household was positively associated with dog bite frequency. Specifically, children living with two or more dogs were more than three times more likely to have been bitten.
- The section of the country surveyed (i.e. eastern, western, northern or southern sections of the United States), household income, and educational attainment was not significantly associated with dog bites.
One of the more interesting results was the substantial decrease in bite incidences towards children, and the authors note that dog bite prevention programs initiated over the last 15 years have probably been helpful in causing this decrease. Another noteworthy finding was the difference between household containing dogs and those which did not have dogs. The authors note that this may not necessarily be a result of being bitten by the household dog, but rather a reflection that those who maintain dogs are more comfortable with dogs, and hence more likely to interact with dogs in contexts other than their own home.
In sum, each year, 1.5% of the US population sustains a dog dog bite injury and approximately 20% of victims required medical care. Based on comparison with data from 1994, the authors conclude that dog bites are a public health concern in the United States, but whether this particular public health problem remains at epidemic levels is questionable.