Bites and Scratches

General Information

All animals are capable of inflicting bites and scratches. Smaller animals (rodents and rabbits) generally deliver minor wounds. Larger species (cats and dogs) are capable of inflicting larger wounds. Bites and scratches from nonhuman primates are capable of inflicting severe wounds.

All bites and scratches can expose individuals to biologic hazards which may be transmitted through saliva, secretions, and/or blood. These injuries may be preventable if individuals are trained in the use of proper animal handling techniques and using appropriate personal protective equipment, especially face/eye protection and hand protection. Animals known to be aggressive should be handled by at least two individuals.

General Animal Bite/Scratch Management

Bites or scratches should be immediately washed with soap (preferably an antiseptic soap, such as chlorhexidene-Nolvasan® or Betadine®-povidone iodine) and running water. Bites or scratches that result in bleeding should be thoroughly scrubbed as above for at least 15 minutes. After cleansing, a topical disinfectant and bandage should be used on the wound to protect it. Individuals should notify their supervisor. Depending on the severity of the wound, individuals should seek medical treatment by reporting to the Employee Health Service or Emergency Room.

Bites/Scratches from Rodents

Laboratory rodents are purchased from laboratories which exclude zoonotic agents. For this reason, there is usually limited concern for disease from research rodents. Exceptions would include animals which have been inoculated with biohazardous material (e.g., LCMV) during the course of the research being performed with the animal. There is always concern about a secondary bacterial infection that may occur. Common skin and intestinal bacteria present on the individual or the animal can infect the bite or scratch wound and cause these secondary infections. The wound should have the above first aid procedures performed and medical treatment should be sought for severe or infected wounds and wounds from animals that have been exposed to a biohazardous material.

Bites/Scratches from Rabbits

Laboratory rabbits contain few infectious pathogens. Rabbits, in particular, can inflict scratches with their strong hind legs. As with bites from rodents, there is a concern for secondary bacterial infection from the bite or scratch or from animals that have been inoculated with a biohazardous material. The would should have the above first aid procedures performed and medical treatment should be sought for severe or infected wounds and wounds from animals that have been exposed to a biohazardous material.

Bites/Scratches from Cats

If an individual has been bitten by a cat, the attending veterinarian must be notified as well as the individual’s supervisor. The veterinarian will have to determine if the cat in question has any potential for transmitting rabies which may result in the cat being placed under quarantine and observation for a time period specified by the attending veterinarian. Rabies vaccination is available to personnel who handle cats through the Employee Health Service. Personnel who may be pregnant should contact EHS for counseling regarding precautions to prevent Toxoplasmosis; this infectious organism can cause severe disease in unborn babies. There may be a concern for cat scratch disease; individuals should contact the attending veterinarian and Employee Health Service.

Bites/Scratches from Non-human Primates

Bites and scratches from NHP cause the most concern as they pose a real potential for exposure to zoonotic disease, although transmission of zoonotic disease is rare. Serious injury from bites and scratches can occur. Due to the serious zoonotic potential of Cercopithecine herpes virus 1 (Herpes B virus) infection, all individuals who will be using NHPs must attend special training from the attending veterinarian prior to working with these animals. In addition, all personnel who work with NHPs must have an annual TB test.

All areas which house NHP contain a bite/scratch/exposure first aid kit. The individual should know where these kits are located and retrieve it if any exposure from a NHP occurs.

If an individual is bitten or scratched by a NHP, the area should be immediately scrubbed and cleansed with a mixture of soap and irrigation solution for 15 to 20 minutes. Exposures to the eyes, nose, and mucous membranes should immediately be irrigated with the sterile eye solution in the first aid kit immediately and then find an eye wash station to continue irrigation for 15 to 20 minutes. The individual’s supervisor and the attending veterinarian should be informed. The employee then must visit EHS or the emergency room for a wound culture, a blood sample, and other immediate care as necessary. The first aid kit will have a bag labeled “Employee Health/Emergency Department” which you must bring with you; this includes sterile swabs, culture and serum tubes, a protocol for further evaluation, a signs and symptoms of infection sheet, and a form for sample submission to the Georgia State University Viral Immunology Center. More detailed information from CCM can be found under Non-Human Primate Specific Occupational Health and Safety Risks.