WHO Tries to Quantify Annual Toll of Animal Bites

Its summary indicates as many as 5 million people worldwide are bitten by snakes per year and 4.5 million people in the United States alone are bitten by dogs annually. Worldwide annual human deaths from rabies are estimated at 55,000.

The number of deaths and injuries caused by animal bites every year is staggering, according to a Feb. 18 report posted by the World Health Organization. Tens of millions of people are bitten by dogs, and rabid dogs cause most of the estimated 55,000 annual human deaths from rabies, it says. As many as 5 million people per year worldwide are bitten by snakes.

Snakebite annual deaths are estimated to range between 94,000 to 125,000, with 400,000 amputations and additional severe health consequences from snakebites, with a majority of snakebites occurring in Africa and Southeast Asia. "Poor access to health care and scarcity of antivenom increases the severity of the injuries and their outcomes," WHO reported.

There are about 4.5 million U.S. people bitten by dogs every year, with nearly 885,000 of them seeking medical care. Countries including Australia, Canada, and France have comparable incidence and fatality rates. The report says children make up the largest percentage of people bitten by dogs; it also summarizes the percentage of injuries around the world caused by cat bites and monkey bites. Monkey bites are an important risk for travelers, ranking second only to dog bites.

The agency has launched several tools to help guide the appropriate development, distribution, and administration of antivenom, and for rabies, WHO advocates greater access to post-exposure treatment, continued education in rabies prevention and control, and widespread immunization of dog populations.

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