The skin is an essential component of nonspecific immunity, protecting the host from potential pathogens in the environment. Breaches in this protective barrier thus represent a form of immunocompromise that predisposes the patient to infection. Bites and scratches from animals and humans allow the inoculation of microorganisms past the skin’s protective barrier into deeper, susceptible host tissues.
Each year in the United States, millions of animal-bite wounds are sustained. The vast majority are inflicted by pet dogs and cats, which number >100 million; the annual incidence of dog and cat bites has been reported as 300 bites per 100,000 population. Other bite wounds are a consequence of encounters with animals in the wild or in occupational settings. While many of these wounds require minimal or no therapy, a significant number result in infection, which may be life-threatening. The microbiology of bite-wound infections in general reflects the oropharyngeal flora of the biting animal, although organisms from the soil, the skin of the animal and the victim, and the animal’s feces may also be involved.
In the United States, dogs bite >4.7 million people each year and are responsible for 80% of all animal-bite wounds, an estimated 15–20% of which become infected. Each year, 800,000 Americans seek medical attention for dog bites; of those injured, 386,000 require treatment in an emergency department, with >1000 emergency department visits each day and about a dozen deaths per year. Most dog bites are provoked and are inflicted by the victim’s pet or by a dog known to the victim. These bites are frequently sustained during efforts to break up a dogfight. Children are more likely than adults to sustain canine bites, with the highest incidence of 6 bites/1000 population among boys 5–9 years old. Victims are more often male than female, and bites most often involve an upper extremity. Among children <4 years old, two-thirds of all these injuries involve the head or neck. Infection typically manifests 8–24 h after the bite as pain at the site of injury with cellulitis accompanied by purulent, sometimes foul-smelling discharge. Septic arthritis and osteomyelitis may develop if a canine tooth penetrates synovium or bone. Systemic manifestations (e.g., fever, lymphadenopathy, and lymphangitis) also may occur. The microbiology of dog-bite wound infections is usually mixed and includes β-hemolytic streptococci, Pasteurella species, Staphylococcus species (including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus [MRSA]), Eikenella corrodens, and Capnocytophaga canimorsus. Many wounds also include anaerobic bacteria such as Actinomyces, Fusobacterium, Prevotella, and Porphyromonas species.
While most infections resulting from dog-bite injuries are localized to the area of injury, many of the microorganisms involved are capable of causing systemic infection, including bacteremia, meningitis, brain abscess, endocarditis, and chorioamnionitis. These infections are particularly likely in hosts with edema or compromised lymphatic drainage in the involved extremity (e.g., after a bite on the arm in a woman who has undergone mastectomy) and in patients ...