The Healthcare Cost & Utilization Project just released a new statistical brief on Emergency Department visits relating to dog bites (based on #s from 2008. The study doesn't go into a lot of detail on methodology, but it does seem to be a more comprehensive study than many that are out there.
According to their numbers, there were 316,200 emergency department visits in 2008 from dog bites. Of those, 9,500 involved overnight stays.
*Now, note that there are 77.5 million owned dogs in the US -- that means that .4% of dogs will be involved in an incident that requires an ER visit and .01% will be involved in an incident that involves an overnight stay. So with that many owned dogs, only 1 out of 10,000 will be involved in an incident that would require a hospital stay each year. So dogs are incredibly safe.
Also, according to the study there were more than 30 million emergency department visits a year, and nearly 3 million hospitalizations -- so about 1% of all ED visits and .3% of hospitalizations are from dog bites.
Of the injuries involved in hospitalizations, 43% included skin and tissue infections, 22% open wounds to extremeties, 10.5% open wounds to the head, neck and trunk, 5.3% fractured upper limb, 2.1% tissue disease, 1.1% infective arthritis and osteomyelitis, 1.1% Septicemia, 1.1% crushing injury or other internal injury, 1.1% fractured lower limb.
The total number of of hospitalizations of 9,500 is the highest number since numbers were recorded in 1993. And the number have been steadily increasing over that time -- however, much of that is due to an increase in population -- as the number of hospitalizations per 100,000 people has been pretty consistently between 2.7 and 3.0 over the past 13 years (with a peak of 3.4 in 1995). This also doesn't take into account the significant increase in pet ownership over the past 2 decades.
Children 5-9 were most likely to visit an emergency department, followed by children under 5 and children 10-14.
Hospitalizations were most common among older adults 65-84, 85+, followed by children under 5 and children 5-9. This makes sense as the older groups and the younger groups would be more vulnerable.
Not a lot in this study is truly earthshattering. I think most who follow this blog or the work of the NCRC will find these numbers consistent with what they already know.
I think of intrest is how the media has decided to cover this news -- which only wants to focus on the increase in total dog bite cases (without context from the increase in dogs or people):
Los Angeles Times - Man's Best Friend? Severe dog bite injuries have increased.
Health Leaders Media - Hospital Admissions, ED Visits for Dog Bites Surge
USA Today - Dog Bites man: Hospitalizations rise 86%
And all of the other reports to date have had similar headlines. So while they could have focused on the bites per capita remaining pretty consistent, or that dogs remain infinitely safer than almost anything else humans come in contact with (including other humans). But the dramatic fear mongering is the lead so far in all cases.
Which then leads me to our 'friend' Merritt Clifton's numbers. Clifton has what he believes to be a detailed dog bite 'study' by breed. Clifton's study covers dog attacks over the past 27 years - and includes 2,695 dog bites - so roughly 100 attacks per year. One hundred attacks per year represents 1% of the total hospitalizations from dog bites each year and .03% of all emergency department visits each year.
Because Clifton relies only on media reports for his 'study', it is not only not complete, it's not a representative sample -- because it is subject to media bias -- which has shown that it would rather focus on the dramatic and fear mongering. And Clifton buys into it hook, line and sinker.
Public officials need to focus on actual data when making policy decisions. By doing so, they can make an actual impact on the number of hopsitalizations from dog bites vs paying lip service to it. And the data continues to show that dogs do not represent a major risk in most communities -- and that the majority of the risk involves young children. That risk can be minimized through educating parents on how to introduce dogs to young children and to never leave their children alone with dogs unsupervised. But making decisions based on actual data, and not dramatized fear-mongering is the only way to make positive steps.