Objectives: To understand the epidemiology of animal bites and exposure, evaluate the animal exposure reporting system for surveillance of rabies postexposure prophylaxis (PEP), and identify opportunities to reduce PEP.
Design: Period prevalence survey.
Study population: Pennsylvania residents in 1995.
Procedure: Data from animal bite reports from Pennsylvania county health offices were summarized for 1995. Animal bite incidences for the state, counties, various age groups, and various population densities were calculated. Animal species, treatment, location of wounds, and PEP recommendations were evaluated for exposures.
Results: More than 16,000 animal-related potential rabies exposures were reported from 65 of 67 counties in Pennsylvania. The highest incidence was in children less than 5 years old (324/100,000). Of the 75% of victims requiring wound treatment, 50% received antimicrobials, 29% received a tetanus toxoid, and 19% had wounds sutured, were admitted to hospitals, or were referred for plastic surgery. Although 75% of exposures were to dogs, victims exposed to cats were 6 times as likely to receive PEP (relative risk, 6.1; 95% confidence interval, 5.1 to 7.4). Thirty percent of 556 PEP were given for exposures to dogs, 44% for cats, 7% for raccoons, 4% for bats, 2.5% for squirrels, 2.1% for groundhogs, 2% for foxes, and 8% for exposures to other species. Fifty-nine percent of owned dogs were up-to-date on rabies vaccinations compared with 41% of owned cats.
Conclusion: Interventions, such as dog bite prevention education, vaccination of pets against rabies, appropriate use of PEP, and reduction of feral cat populations, should be instituted, enhanced, or better enforced in communities.