Mona Khanna, MD, MPH, discusses first-aid treatment for both animal bites and insect bites.
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Question: What should you do if you are bitten by an animal or insect? P. Mona Khanna: If someone is bitten by an animal, even an insect, we look to see what kind of wound it has created. Is it a minor wound? Is it a major wound? Is the person allergic? Is there a potential of them having some kind of allergic reaction? So let's talk about minor wounds first. Let's talk about minor wounds with animal bites if the skin isn't broken or if it's barely broken, the best thing to do really is wash it with soap and water, and make sure that there's no other reactions like there's no redness, no swelling around the skin, the person is still able to breathe okay, because when you have an allergic reaction, that's often times the most dangerous consequence of the particular animal bite is it your throat will swell up and you'll start have difficulty breathing. If all those signs are okay, it was just a minor wound. You've washed it with soap and water, you can cover with a Band-Aid or not and go on your way. Keep an eye on it though in case it does tend to swell up later. Question: What if you know if you are allergic to a certain type of bite? P. Mona Khanna: Some people know that they're allergic to certain type of insect bites or bug bites. For example, bee stings, very common allergy and in those cases, many children and adults carry around what we called an EpiPen and that's basically an injector of a substance that helps prevent the serious consequences of that particular bite or sting. If it's unknown whether somebody is allergic, the signs and symptoms you need to be watching out for are, if that person starts to swell in any manner, their tongue might swell, their lips might swell, any part of their face might swell, if that person starts to have difficulty breathing, that often means that the airway of swelling, you can't see the airway, but the result of it, is it they might have difficulty breathing, that is an emergency and that is the call to 911 immediately. Question: What should you do in the event of a major wound? P. Mona Khanna: You know, if you're mauled, for example, by a dog, by a cat, if it's even a shark attack, we've heard of those recently, that requires a medical attention. I mean anything that's deep enough where you are bleeding profusely or there's a potential that you've actually cut a tendon or an anything that can have serious consequences, you need to get that looked at immediately. What the result maybe is you may need to get it sutured, you may need to get a shot of either tetanus to prevent from a very debilitating infection or any other kind of a shot and part of that series may include rabies shots. In general, pets in the United States are vaccinated against rabies, but there are all kinds of wild animals that may carry rabies and in those situations when it's unknown, we often err and give up people the benefit of the doubt just to make sure they don't contract rabies infections, so the most important thing with major wounds or deep wounds is seek medical attention after you are bitten right away and to stop the bleeding, apply pressure to the wound. In cases where it's very severe, if there are any severed parts, fingers, hands, arms whatever, if you can locate that part, put it in a plastic bags, put it in ice and bring it with you to the emergency room, there's a very rate of reattachment, particularly the digits of fingers or the thumbs, if you can -- if that is completely bitten off and you could bring it with you, then there's a potential that; that can be reattached. Question: What precautions should you take to prevention? P. Mona Khanna: In the past, we used to treat many infections with antibiotics as a precautionary measure. That practice has evolved and now in many cases, we'll wait to see if an infection develops before we treat patients with antibiotics. And the reason is, if you don't need medicine, why take it. There are some particular bites that run themselves to a higher r