If you and your child are romping in the park or enjoying a stroll on a warm spring day and a dog approaches, be ultra vigilant.
Children, warm weather, and dogs, even family dogs, don't mix well, according to a study conducted by pediatric otolaryngologists from the University at Buffalo's School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
Results show that young children are especially vulnerable to severe dog bites in the head and neck areas, and that there is a correlation between cases of dog bites and rising temperatures.
"A dog is man's best friend, but could be a child's worst companion," notes Philomena M. Behar, M.D., UB clinical assistant professor of otolaryngology and the study's corresponding author.
"Children are particularly vulnerable to severe dog bite injuries on the head and neck, and the injuries can be extensive and a risk to life, especially in young children," she says.
"Youngsters don't understand the need to distance themselves from danger. They may even look like prey, especially as they run around, and children usually can't outrun the dog or defend themselves."
The study appears in the March 2009 issue of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery.
The authors reviewed charts of the 84 children up to 19 years old who were treated for dog bites at Women and Children's Hospital in Buffalo from1999 – 2007.
Results show that the average age of injured children was six years. One-third of the bites occurred on the cheeks, 21 percent on the lips, and eight percent each on the nose and ears, results showed.
Sixty-four percent of the patients suffered more than one facial wound, and 40 percent of the total injuries had to be repaired in the operating room under general anesthesia.
Dog bites increased as the weather warmed, the researchers found, and a family pet was the culprit in 27 percent of the injuries.
Pit bull terriers were the breed most commonly reported or identified as the attacker, because of their notoriety. However, Behar notes that the breed of dog often wasn't known or wasn't recorded.
"Doctors, nurses and others involved in treating the injuries need to be educated to collect precise information," she emphasizes. "It's very useful to know the specifics: Was the dog provoked and was the child supervised adequately?"
Health care providers should collect as much information as possible, including breed and sex of the dog, spay or neuter status, history of aggression, ownership and owner's use of restraint, time of the incident, the child's past history of dog bites, location of the incident and the dog's vaccination history.
"This information is important to be able to identify trends and develop and promote prevention strategies," says Behar.
Angelo Monroy, M.D., of the UB Department of Otolaryngology, is first author on the study. Additional authors, all UB otolaryngologists affiliated with Women and Children's Hospital, are Mark Nagy, M.D., Christopher Poje, M.D., Michael Pizzuto, M.D., and Linda Brodsky, M.D.. Nagy and Brodsky also are members of the UB Department of Pediatrics.
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