Source: ABC News (Extract)
Posted: May 02, 2024

A tourist town in Western Australia’s far north has recorded seven times the national average of hospital admissions from dog bites, new research has found.

The project was conducted by four researchers from Broome Regional Hospital.

It was produced in response to a large number of dog bites between July 1, 2021, and June 30, 2023.

To the researchers’ knowledge, the Broome data was the largest single centre study in rural Australia assessing the presentation and impact of dog bite injuries.

The findings, published last week, came after an incident in February, where a Broome man suffered severe leg injuries after being attacked by two dogs.

The Shire of Broome has also confirmed two rangers were recently injured while trying to detain an aggressive dog.

The research identified 207 patients in the two-year period, with 74 per cent of cases involving dogs that belonged to or were known to the injured person.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare reported the number of dog bites requiring hospital admission was 20 per 100,000, while in Broome the research showed 142 bites per 100,000.

The researchers said it was a significant preventable public health issue.

Four adults were flown to Royal Perth Hospital for plastic surgery due to hand injuries and three children taken to Perth Children’s Hospital to treat facial injuries.

Aiming for change

The research paper discussed how dog bites could cause serious injury, psychological trauma, zoonotic disease and death — with an estimated 100,000 dog bites reported in Australia each year.

“The public health implications of dog bites are substantial, particularly in regional settings where access to tertiary-level sub-speciality care requires medical evacuation,” they said.

About 2,000 dogs are registered with the Shire of Broome.

The researchers said the number of unregistered dogs in the area was unable to be determined.

“Large numbers of dogs in rural and remote areas may increase the risk of dog bites,” the researchers found.

Their study revealed 22 per cent of dog bite victims were not Kimberley residents and potentially tourists.

The researchers said “notable disparity” between hospital and council records suggested bites went largely unreported and improved policies could enhance the understanding of the dog bite burden.

Animal management plan

A Shire of Broome spokesperson said the shire was aware of the study and encouraged people to report all dog attacks.

“It is worth noting the study is based on hospital presentations, many of which are not reported to the shire,” they said.

The spokesperson said the shire had taken steps to address pet ownership issues through the development of a new animal management plan.

“This plan, which is a crucial part of our commitment to community safety, will be presented soon,” the spokesperson said. 

“We value public input and look forward to further community consultation to assist with shaping our approach.”

A RSPCA WA spokesperson said many reported dog bites happened at home and involved children.

“This highlights that it is very important to always supervise your children with your pets and to allow your pets some quiet alone space and time when they want it,” they said.