Fatal Dog Attacks

ATLANTA & WASHINGTON--Dog bite injuries can lead to serious infections (such as tetanus and rabies), disability, deformity, and occasionally death. Most of these injuries are preventable.

The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Humane Society of the United States recently updated data on fatal dog bites for the period 1989 to 1994.

In the 6-year study published in the medical journal PEDIATRICS (Vol.97 No. 6, 891-5), Jeffrey J. Sacks, M.D. and associates reported the finding of 109 bite-related fatalities. They found that 57% of the deaths were in children under 10 years of age. 22% of the deaths involved an unrestrained dog OFF the owner's property. 18% of the deaths involved a restrained dog ON the owner's property, and 59% of the deaths involved an unrestrained dog ON the owner's property.

The researchers also found that 10% of the dog bite attacks involved sleeping infants.

The most commonly reported dog breeds involved were pit bulls (24 deaths), followed by rottweilers (16 deaths), and German shepherds (10 deaths). The authors point out that many breeds, however, are involved in the problem.

The death rate from dog bite-related fatalities (18 deaths per year) in the 6-year study period remained relatively constant compared with the prior 10 years.

The authors emphasized that "most of the factors contributing to dog bites are related to the level of responsibility exercised by dog owners." They recommend public education about dogs and dog ownership. In this regard, the authors suggest the following guidelines for parents and children: