Estimation of Dog-Bite Risk and Related Morbidity Among Personnel Working With Military Dogs

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Schermann H, Eiges N, Sabag A, Kazum E, Albagli A, Salai M, Shlaifer A 17(3). 51 - 54 (Journal Article)

Background: Soldiers serving in the Israel Defense Force Military Working Dogs (MWD) Unit spend many hours taming dogs' special skills, taking them on combat missions, and performing various dogkeeping activities. During this intensive work with the aggressive military dogs, bites are common, and some of them result in permanent disability. However, this phenomenon has not been quantified or reported as an occupational hazard. Methods: This was a retrospective cohort study based on self-administered questionnaires. Information was collected about soldiers' baseline demographics, duration of the experience of working with dogs, total number of bites they had, circumstances of bite events, and complications and medical treatment of each bite. Bite risk was quantified by incidence, mean time to first bite, and a Cox proportional hazards model. Rates of complications and the medical burden of bites were compared between combat soldiers and noncombat dogkeepers. Bite locations were presented graphically. Results: Seventy-eight soldiers participated and reported on 139 bites. Mean time of working with dogs was 16 months (standard deviation, ±9.4 months). Overall bite incidence was 11 bites per 100 person-months; the mean time to first bite event was 6.3 months. The Cox proportional hazards model showed that none of baseline characteristics significantly increased bite hazard. About 90% of bites occurred during routine activities, and 3.3% occurred on combat missions. Only in 9% of bite events did soldiers observed the safety precautions code. Bite complications included fractures, need for intravenous antibiotic treatment and surgical repair, prominent scarring, diminished sensation, and stiffness of proximal joints. Bite complications were similar between combat soldiers and dogkeepers. Most bites (57%) were located on hands and arms. Conclusion: MWD bites are an occupational hazard resulting in significant medical burden. Hands and arms were most common bite locations. Observance of safety precautions may be the most appropriate first-line preventive intervention. Barrier protection of upper extremities may reduce bite severity and complication rates.

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