Occupational Safety

Physical Injuries - Animal Bites, Scratches, Kicks

Bites, scratches, and kicks are potential hazards associated with research animal contact. They may be prevented or minimized through proper training in animal-handling technique.

Personnel working with large domestic animals might sustain crushing injuries when the animals kick, fall, or simply shift their body weight.

Personnel should be aware of environmental factors, as well as factors intrinsic to the animal, that can precipitate a traumatic event in a research animal facility. Animals respond to sounds and smells as people do; they also hear, smell and react to things that people might not detect. If an animal hears a high-pitched sound, it might become frightened. Such situations can result in an unexpected response that results in injury to the animal handler.

Many animals have a "flight zone;" approaches by another animal or a person cause an attempt to escape. Being aware of an animal's flight zone will help avoid injuries. Many animals are social and show visible signs of distress if isolated from others of their kind. Knowledge of species-specific animal behavior is important in reducing risks.

Inappropriate animal handling can induce discomfort, pain, distress, provoking an animal to inflict injury on its handler. Personnel should review educational materials pertinent to safe animal-handling techniques and should have supervised instructions before undertaking new animal-handling procedures.

Animal bites, especially those by rodents that inflict little tissue damage, are sometimes considered inconsequential by personnel who are unfamiliar with the host of diseases that can spread by this mechanism. Serious complications can result from wound contamination by the normal oral flora of the animals involved. Personnel should maintain current tetanus immunizations, seek prompt medical review of wounds, and initiate veterinary evaluation of the animal involved, if warranted. Rabies, B-virus infection, hantavirus infection, cat-scratch fever, tularemia, rat-bite fever, and orf are among the specific diseases that can be transmitted by animal bites with profound consequences.

The early initiation of antimicrobial therapy for all animal bites that are not trivial appears warranted because there is a high probability of wound contamination with potential pathogens. That approach will limit the progression of a localized infection and avert the more serious complications of wound infection, which could include cellulitis, abscess, septic arthritis, tenosynovitis, osteomyelitis, sepsis, endocartitis, and meningitis. If infections do not respond to therapy, additional microbiological studies that encompass unusual and fastidious organisms should be pursued. Fungal agents should not be overlooked as possible wound contaminants; the transmission of blastomycosis to humans by dog bite has been reported.