Thursday, November 18, 2010

Animal Bite Reporting

I just got off the phone with a woman whose husband was just bitten by their son's cat, a patient of mine. In addition to advising her that he should see his physician promptly, I told her of my obligation to report the bite to the health department. She wasn't happy to hear that, but the law is quite clear in these things. And because the cat was indoor/outdoor and its vaccination status unknown as of the only visit to me in September, this could very well end badly for the cat. Quarantine or immediate euthanasia for rabies testing are the only two options.

To complicate matters, the owner's mother hates the cat, is insistent that it be euthanized without any involvement of the health department, and refused to provide me with the bite victim's name to aid in my reporting obligation. This, despite her near-hysterical concern about the possibility of her husband contracting some disease from the cat.

Veterinarians have a duty to work closely with public health authorities to minimize the risk of zoonotic diseases in humans. But we need the unconditional and complete cooperation of pet owners in order to do so. It is most unhelpful to refuse medical treatment of parasites, refuse vaccinations, allow your pet outdoors in spite of said lack of vaccinations and parasite control, refuse to cooperate with measures designed to keep you safe and healthy, and then verbally upbraid the one person who is working overtime to protect you from your bad decisions.

Los Angeles County Veterinary Public Health has an excellent online portal for animal bite reporting. Anyone who is aware of an animal bite has an obligation to do so, not just the physician or veterinarian involved. The purpose of this reporting is to ensure that no rabid animals slip through the cracks, resulting in needless human rabies deaths.

My biggest concern in this case now is that the owner's mother will take the cat elsewhere for euthanasia, withhold information about the recent human bite, and in doing so allow the cat to go untested. This will then, because I have already reported the bite, lead to mandatory rabies treatment for not only the bite victim but everyone else who handled the cat in the past 10 days. Expensive, inconvenient, painful, and perhaps completely unnecessary.

Just yesterday, LAVPH emailed me with an update on the bat rabies situation this year, and it's not good. They have diagnosed rabies in over 20 bats locally in 2010, more than double the normal number. If your cat goes outdoors AT ALL, it is at risk. And even if it never goes outdoors it is not at zero risk because rabid bats do get into homes all the time. So it's time for another shameless plug: VACCINATE YOUR CAT FOR RABIES EVERY YEAR REGARDLESS OF ITS LIFESTYLE.

Only YOU can prevent gastric ulcers and forehead bruising in your veterinarian.