Animal Bite and Scratch Exposure


An animal bite or exposure is defined as having one's skin pierced or abraded by animal teeth or claws, or by coming in contact with animal saliva or tissue on abraded skin, eyes, or mucus membranes. Bites and scratches are potentially dangerous not only from the physical damage but also for the potential of contracting zoonotic disease or allergic reactions.

Animal Bite Related Diseases

Pasteurellosis: The most common bite-associated infection is caused by a bacterium called Pasteurella . Most cats and dogs-even healthy ones-naturally carry this organism in their mouths. When an animal bites a person, these bacteria can enter the wound and start an infection. The first signs of pasteurellosis usually occur within 2 to 12 hours of the bite and include pain, reddening, and swelling of the area around the site of the bite. Pasteurellosis can progress quickly, spreading through the body from the bitten area. Untreated, this infection can lead to severe complications. Bites to the hand need special attention; if pasteurellosis develops in the tissues of the hand, the bacteria can infect tendons or even bones and sometimes cause permanent damage if appropriate medical care is not administered promptly.

Rat-Bite Fever: Rat-bite fever is caused by Streptobacillus moniliformis or Spirillum minor; these organisms are in the respiratory tracts and mouths of rodents, especially rats. Most human infections are the result of a bite wound. Symptoms include chills, fever, malaise, headache and muscle pain. A rash can develop along with painful joints, abscesses, endocarditis, pneumonia, hepatitis pyelonephritis, and enteritis.

Rabies: Rabies is a preventable viral disease of mammals most often transmitted through the bite of a rabid animal. The vast majority of rabies cases reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) each year occur in wild animals like raccoons, skunks, bats, and foxes. Domestic animals account for less than 10% of the reported rabies cases, with cats, cattle, and dogs most often reported rabid.

Rabies virus infects the central nervous system, causing encephalopathy and ultimately death. Early symptoms of rabies in humans are nonspecific, consisting of fever, headache, and general malaise. As the disease progresses, neurological symptoms appear and may include insomnia, anxiety, confusion, slight or partial paralysis, excitation, hallucinations, agitation, hypersalivation (foaming at the mouth), difficulty swallowing, and hydrophobia. Death usually occurs within days of the onset of symptoms.

Bite Prevention


  • Species specific animal handling techniques are taught by the Laboratory Animal Program veterinary staff and the animal facility management staff.
  • Rabies prevention post bite steps do not apply to laboratory rodents, i.e., rats, mice, rabbits, or hamsters.
  • If possible, direct handling of wild animals or any animals suspected of being infected should be avoided by using tongs, bite gloves, squeeze cages, shields, or other protective equipment.
  • Animals known to be aggressive should always be handled by a minimum of two people.


  • Do not approach or try to pet or handle strange dogs, cats, squirrels, raccoons, possums, bats, or other wild animals.
  • Avoid injured animals or animals that are behaving oddly, (staggering or nocturnal animal sighted during the day).
  • Report animals that are demonstrating odd behavior to the local animal control officer

Post Bite Procedures

  • If possible, confine the animal to prevent any further injuries and to allow quarantine or immediate rabies testing. It is important to have the name and address of the animal's owner so that EHS can conduct follow-up procedures. If ownership is unknown, record the address where the bite occurred so the local animal control officer can begin a search.
  • If the bite breaks the skin, treat it as a minor wound. Wash the area thoroughly with soap and water, apply an antibiotic cream, and cover it with a clean bandage. If the bite creates a deep puncture or the skin is badly torn and bleeding, apply pressure to stop the bleeding.
  • Seek medical attention right away for any animal bite or injury. Based on the information gathered, a post exposure prophylaxis recommendation will be developed by the health care provider.
  • Immediately report the incident to the facility animal care supervisor, Laboratory Animal Program, Purdue Student Health Center Urgent Care, and the Principal Investigator.

Animal Bite Monitoring

Potential exposure to serious zoonotic diseases, such as rabies, is monitored by the Indiana State Department of Health, by the Purdue Laboratory Animal Program (LAP), and by the Purdue Radiological Environmental Management Department (EHS). Animal bites are a state reportable health event. The Indiana State Department of Health "Animal Bite Report - Report of Rabies Prophylaxis" form must be completed by the health care provider.

Contact and Links

Biosafety Officer: Robert Golden (765)494-1496

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