Wednesday, January 20, 2010

'Tis but a flesh wound

Last night, in the dark and rain, I was beginning my 4-mile evening run on a main street 1/4 mile from my house when a dog bit me.  I was on the sidewalk and saw a young lady running toward me with two dogs on short leashes.  As a dog owner, I appreciate it when people move over for me (though I typically move my dogs to the side when joggers/walkers approach) so I stepped into the bike lane to allow the trio to pass.  Just as I passed them, I felt a pinch on my left thigh and immediately looked down to see a hole in my tights.  I spun around and yelled to the woman, "your dog just bit me!"  She replied, "No, he didn't."  I then showed her the hole in my tights (from a good distance since I was now skittish about the dogs).  She said, "Oh, he just scratched you.  There's no way he would bite you.  He's not even my dog.  I'll pay for the tights."  I was dumbfounded.  I was expecting an apologetic response, and the defensiveness really threw me for a loop.  I really couldn't see a thing without any light and was getting drenched in the rain.  After trying to get her to recognize the obvious, I finally got so frustrated that I yelled something like, "way to take responsibility for your dog's bad behavior," and left to complete my run.  Now, I wish I had said something more profane.

I got to the nearest street lamp and looked at my wounds.  Two, perfectly spaced holes barely piercing the skin.  It appeared that the dog got more pant than he did leg, which was a relief.   The wound stung every time I took a step, but didn't seem very serious.  It hadn't even dawned on me to take down any information from this girl who didn't own the dogs, and of course this plagued me for the rest of my run.  Was it current on its rabies vaccination?  I couldn't remember seeing these two dogs in the neighborhood before.  How was I going to verify this information?  Could this dog have rabies?

When I got home, I took pictures for documentation and posted them on Facebook.  I started getting posts from runners with similar stories and was surprised at how common this is: not the dog bite part, but the refusal of the owner to accept responsibility.  One of those posts, from JT, came with some valuable information described in her blog.  She had been mauled by a dog a couple of years ago and didn't take the information of the owner either.  She ended up receiving post-exposure prophylaxis for rabies (a series of nasty shots) as a result.  I had no idea how deadly rabies is until I saw this article.  Here's the abstract:

Human infection with rabies causes a severe viral encephalitis that is almost uniformly fatal. Human exposure to rabies occurs primarily via bite wounds from an infected animal with injection of infected saliva beneath the skin. Following any potential exposure, the physician must evaluate the likelihood that an actual rabies exposure occurred based on degree of contact and likelihood that the animal was infected. Once exposure is confirmed, postexposure prophylaxis with immunoglobulin and human rabies vaccine must be initiated immediately. If no prophylaxis is given and rabies encephalitis develops, the only available therapy is supportive care, with progression to multiorgan failure and death in essentially all cases.

So, apparently, you don't mess around when it comes to rabies.  First thing this morning, I called my HMO's advice nurse.  She explained that the only thing she could offer was a one way ticket to the emergency room.  Just then, one of my colleagues popped out from behind a cubicle, having overheard my conversation, and emphasized the importance of getting treatment started quickly.  His wife had been bitten by a potentially rabid raccoon last year and was told the treatment needed to start within hours of exposure.

I was now thoroughly freaked out and accepted that ER ticket.  Luckily, it was a slow day at the ER, and I was seen quickly.  Of course, the doctor had no idea what to do except to offer to treat the "wound" with antibiotic cream and a course of pills.  I told him I could manage the bruising and scratches myself, but that the reason I was there was concerning this small question of rabies exposure.  He had no idea what to do about rabies.   To his credit, he offered to call someone from "Infectious Diseases" for me.  Forty-five minutes later, he got through, and they said that there was no serious concern, based on his description of the incident, of rabies exposure.  I was current on my tetanus shot, luckily, so no shots were required.

I'm now taking antibiotics, just in case Doggie Do-wrong ate cat poop or a rotting corpse before he bit me.  My leg hurts to touch it, and I get a slight stabbing pain when I run, but I will live.  Now that the health threat is behind me, I am pissed off about the hole in those tights.  I really loved them!  I guess I could still wear them.  Maybe I'll sew on a fashionable little patch to cover the damage.  I think it will say, "bite me."


  1. wow, that dog walker (or whatever she was) sounds like a jerk. I was bitten by a random dog a few years ago and had to get the whole kit and caboodle of shots for a couple of weeks. bummer about the tights - I wonder if you'll ever run into the woman again.

  2. i use to like dogs. running has cured me of that. or maybe it's really their owners. i was at a standstill with a barking, unleashed, unfenced dog for about ten minutes, owner nowhere to be found. it seems as you get farther into the country, more people own bigger dogs and feel less inclined to keep them away from you.

  3. I am reprinting this from my FB page, because Julie posts some good information/advice here.

    For purposes of edification, here's the deal on rabies. Sorry for the tome, but I've become a bit of an evangelist since having gotten bitten and treated.

    If an animal has rabies, it will typically show symptoms within 10 days of contracting it. So what usually happens is, if you can locate the animal, it gets quarantined for 10 days (often in the owner's home or vet's office, for those of you concerned for the owner's rights), regardless of vaccination history. In the meantime, you get the initial set of shots (immunoglobulin + vaccine) ideally within the first 24-48 hours. But you can wait as long as 10 days. Then you get a second shot a week after the first set.

    If there are no symptoms in the animal after 10 days of quarantine, you skip the last two shots (at 21 and 28 days after first dose), unless you want to be fully vaccinated anyway, which is sort of a handy thing. Should you ever get bitten by a suspected animal again (bad luck!), then you just go for two booster shots.

    Not to be alarmist, but if you can't locate the animal that bit you, then shots are a good idea, if at the very least to prevent months of anxiety over whether you made the right bet or not.

    More people get shots for bites (or even just exposure, such as waking up with a bat in the room) from bats, large rodents or carnivores (foxes, raccoons) in the northeastern and mid-Atlantic US than they do for domesticated animals. But I wasn't the first person in Westchester County, NY to get shots for a dog bite, as a "better safe than sorry" measure.

    Rabies is still rampant in many parts of the world, primarily (big surprise) in dirt poor countries in Africa and Asia, killing around 50,000 a year, most of them children and teens. Since the vaccine is relatively expensive, that's not likely to change, unfortunately. More info:

    If you can spare a buck or two after Haiti, donate at one of these sites. Rabies is a horrible way to go.

  4. Beth, That stinks. Not sure why Sacramento County doesn't take the dog bite-rabies issue more seriously. Maybe our incidence of rabies from domestic animal bites is much lower/non-existent than other places?

    Rocky wing, So you would think I'd be safer in the city then, right? Not so. I have met some of those country dogs myself and have luckily not been harmed. One trick I tried (that thankfully worked) was to run at the country dog at full speed screaming my head off. Backed right down. The trick was turning my back to run away from him. I think a passing car ended up blocking the road for long enough for me to dart away safely.

  5. Wow, this is a horrible story! I can't believe what an asshole that woman was, how can you clearly see the damage and have the nerve to pretend nothing happened? Karma will bite her deeply in the ass one day, it's just gotta. And pooh that they were nice tights, that's a double bummer.

  6. I am pissed off for you as well. Stupid fricken idiot people!!! Makes me want to find her and slap her. Grrrr! I'm glad you sought medical attention... definitely better to be on the safe side.

  7. Wow, I get very pissed off when I hear such stories! I have a good bunch of dogs and as a responsible dog owner myself these really make me so angry I could scream. You really should've asked double price for the tights and tell her what you thought. Oh, and ask for the vaccination record... Hope your wound heals quick!

    Yeah, rabies is not something to play around with. I got bitten a couple of times (not while running) but only once did it draw blood, so I did not go to the ER for treatment.

  8. Yikes. That's scary. (Not to mention frustrating.) Glad to hear that you're taking the better safe than sorry approach. That seems smart.

  9. So you move over for joggers and walkers and not runners? Glad to know it seems OK. I run in the sames places as does Julie, but I've been fortunate; extend-a-leashes are more of a threat to me. If in doubt, I stay as clear as I can.

    As to the girl's reaction, I find most people are unapolgetic and defensive when they do something stupid. Once in a while she'll say "sorry," but usually she'll tell me to slow down or run in the street or run on the sidewalk.

    I could not resist this.

  10. Yes, we've heard about all those rotting corpses in America ;)

    I've had that exact same 'conversation': "your dog just bit me!" She replied, "No, he didn't." By the way, the Peter Sellers video was a good one. Maybe it wasn't her dog!

    Hope you're all clear. But it does look like a flesh wound. Not near as bad as this one.

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