Every year more than 300,000 Americans wind up in hospital emer-gen-cy rooms due to dog bites. And that's only a fraction of the 4.5 million people bitten annually, according to a report in the "Journal of the American Medical Association." Of those, about 20 will die from their injuries. Though victims ranged from infancy to 91 years old, most bitten were boys ages 5 to 9.

Caring for a dog bite

Some of the things to do for a dog bite:

1. Wash the wound gently with soap and water.

2. Apply pressure with a clean towel to the injured part to stop bleeding.

3. Apply a sterile dressing over the wound.

4. Report the incident to the proper authority in your community (e.g., police, animal control office).

When to call a doctor

- Dog bite on hand, foot or head, or another bite that is deep or gaping.

- You have a weakened ability to fight infection from diabetes, liver or lung disease, or cancer.

- Signs of infection (e.g., redness, swelling, warmth, increased tenderness, oozing of pus from wound, or fever).

- Bleeding that does not stop after 1 minute of pressure or if a broken bone or nerve damage is suspected.

Dog bite prevention

- Never leave a young child alone with a dog.

- Do not try to separate fighting dogs.

- Avoid strange and sick dogs.

- Leave animals alone while they are eating.

- Keep pets on a leash when out in public with them.

- For a family, select the breed of dog carefully.

Rabies:

Always a concern involving dog bites is the fear of getting rabies. Rabies is a viral disease affecting the brain and spinal cord that is almost always fatal. Rabies in humans is rare in the U.S., but rabies in wildlife is common in some parts of the country. Rabies is spread in the saliva and other body fluids of infected animals and is spread when they bite.

People exposed to rabies and who have never had rabies shots before are given six shots over the course of a month. Rabies shots are no longer given in the belly but usually the deltoid muscle of the arm. To work best, the shots should begin as soon after the bite as possible. However, if the animal has been caught and tested for rabies or observed for a period of time, some doctors wait for the test results to see if the shots are really needed.

Correction: Last week's column had an incorrect phone number for Medic Alert. The correct number is 1-800-432-5378.