Objectives: Most animal bites in the United States are due to dogs, with approximately 4.7 million reports per year. Surveillance for dog and other animal bites requires a substantial investment of time and resources, and underreporting is common. We described the use and findings of electronic hospital emergency department (ED) chief complaint data to characterize patients and summarize trends in people treated for dog and other animal bites in New York City (NYC) EDs between 2003 and 2006.
Methods: Retrospective data were obtained from the syndromic surveillance system at the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. We used a statistical program to identify chief complaint free-text fields as one of four categories of animal bites. We evaluated descriptive statistics and univariate associations on the available demographic data. The findings were also compared with data collected through the existing passive reporting animal bite surveillance system.
Results: During the study period, more than 6,000 animal bite patient visits were recorded per year. The proportion of visits for animal bites did not appear to change over time. Dog bites accounted for more than 70% and cat bites accounted for 13% of animal bite patient visits. Demographic characteristics of patients were similar to those identified in NYC's passive surveillance system.
Conclusions: Our findings suggest that the use of ED data offers a simple, less resource-intensive, and sustainable way of conducting animal bite surveillance and a novel use of syndromic surveillance data. However, it cannot replace traditional surveillance used to manage individual patients for potential rabies exposures.