Objective: To examine the impact of dog attacks by determining the incidence and risk factors for dog attacks.
Design: Injury surveillance data on dog attacks for a major metropolitan hospital were converted to incidence rates using 1991 census figures for the hospital catchment area and combined with data on community attitudes and experiences derived from a large community survey.
Setting: Queen Elizabeth Hospital (tertiary referral hospital), Adelaide, South Australia, January 1990 to July 1993.
Participants: 356 victims of dog attacks who presented to the emergency department and 3093 respondents to the 1992 South Australian Health Omnibus Survey.
Main outcome measures: Rates of dog attack by age and sex of the victim, hospital presentation and admission; differences in the representation of various dog breeds in attacks.
Results: About 6500 people are injured in Adelaide each year as a result of dog attacks and about 810 seek hospital treatment (7.3 per 10,000 people per year). Children aged 0-4 years were attacked and required hospital treatment twice as often as adults aged 21-59 years, and men aged over 76 years twice as often as men aged 36-75 years. Males were more at risk of attack than females for all age groups. Hospital admission rates were five times higher for the elderly (95% confidence interval [CI], 2.3%-10.2%) and seven times higher for children 12 years and under (95% CI, 3.4%-15.1%) compared with people aged 13-59 years; 90% of children were admitted because of head and facial bites. The risk of attack from german shepherds, bull terriers, blue/red heelers, dobermans and rottwellers was four to five times higher than for other common breeds.
Conclusions: The public health implications of dog attacks are significant and there needs to be increased awareness of the risks to young children. Potential interventions to reduce the incidence of dog attacks vary from strict controls on high-risk breeds to mandatory leashing to a "user pays" liability insurance proposal.