“Hospital admissions for dog bites are three times as high in the most deprived areas of England as in the least,” BBC News reports. Official data released today shows a striking correlation between deprivation and dog bite injuries.
Many health journalists also sunk their teeth into statistics that showed a 6% rise in dog bites on previous years.
Who produced the figures?
The new figures come from the Health and Social Care Information Centre, an official source of health data for England and Wales. The Information Centre, which is also responsible for the NHS Choices website, releases a large amount of quarterly and annual data relating to all aspects of people's visits to hospital.
In its latest release they have a monthly topic of interest on hospital admissions caused by dog and other mammal bites.
The figures represent inpatient admissions, meaning someone has stayed overnight in hospital.
Most of these hospital visits, the Information Centre reports, would follow from attendance at A&E, so represent the most severe injuries caused by dogs. And as such it is likely to be an underestimate of the true number of dog bites that occur every year.
The dog bite figures are provisional for the period February 2013 to January 2014 meaning they may be incomplete or contain errors for which no adjustments have yet been made. They are checked later in the year and sometimes contain small revisions.
What are the key findings?
- There were 6,743 hospital admissions specifically caused by dog bites, a 5.8% increase from the 6,372 admissions in the previous 12 months.
- The rate of admissions for dog bites were three times as high for the 10% most deprived areas (1,237 admissions, 24.1 per 100,000 population) than the 10% least deprived areas (428 admissions, 8.1 per 100,000).
- Admissions due to dog bites were highest in summer months and lower in winter.
- The rate of admission for dog bites or strikes was highest in the 0-9 age group (1,160 admissions, 17.9 per 100,000 population).
- Admission rates for males aged between 10 and 39 were higher than for females but this is reversed for ages over 40 where there was a higher rate of female admissions for all age groups except 50-59 year olds where admissions were similar.
- The main injuries from dogs were open wounds of wrists, hands, head and forearm. Children suffered more injuries to their head compared to other age groups where the main injuries were to the hands and wrists.
- Rates of admission for dog bites were highest in the north of England and lowest in the South West.
- The highest rates were in Merseyside (281 admissions, 23.6 per 100,000 population), Durham, Darlington and Tees (269 admissions, 22.8 per 100,000), West Yorkshire (498 admissions, 21.7 per 100,000) and lowest in Kent and Medway (92 admissions, 5.3 per 100,000 population), Surrey and Sussex (186 admissions, 6.9 per 100,000) and London (634 admissions, 7.6 per 100,000).
Why are the rates so different by area and deprivation?
As the Information Centre points out, some of the regional variation in bites could be influenced by regional variation in the number of households owning a dog. If more people in a certain area own a dog, it may be logical to expect more bites in that area. However, the link with deprivation levels may be less obvious.
To some, the deprivation figures were not surprising. Dr Simon Harding a lecturer in criminology at the University of Middlesex and author of Unleashed: The Phenomena of Status Dogs and Weapons Dogs provided a possible explanation covered in The Independent. He said, “deprived areas are often more populous with larger families, more children, more pets and more people living in closer proximity to each other and dogs. Also dogs tend to be exercised in public, rather than in gardens or remote fields. At the same time people in poorer areas use dogs for protection, instead of alarms or house insurance and there is an underlying trend towards the use of aggressive Pit Bull-type breeds as weapon or status dogs.”
Interestingly, a 2008 US study, also found a similar link between deprivation and increased admission for dog bites.
As well as the possible reasons given above, the study discussed the possibility that poorer dog owners were less likely to have their dog trained or neutered. This could result in a dog that acts more unpredictably and aggressively.
What do I do in the event of a dog bite?
Animal and human bites can become infected if they're not assessed and treated promptly as all mammals have bacteria in their mouths that can infect bites. Therefore, you should always seek medical advice unless the wound is very minor.
Read more about treating dog bites.Healthy Evidence forum.