Trauma

Veterinarians are in close contact with animals of different families, genera, and species. Many of these animals are large, unwieldy, and uncooperative during examination or treatment. It is quite common for veterinarians to receive bites, scratches, crush injuries, and low-back injuries from these animals. In Australia, 71% of veterinarians surveyed reported a lost time injury within the last 10 years from handling animals. In a survey of zoo veterinarians in the United States, 61.5% of respondents reported major animal-related injury and 55% reported low-back injury. Full-time zoo veterinarians were more likely to report back injury and inadequate knowledge of occupational hazards (2,4).

Table 21.2. Veterinary hazards, illnesses and injuries.

Hazard

Injury

Illness

Trauma

Bites, scratches

Infections

Crushing

Tetanus

Lifting

Rabies

Repetitive motion

Tenosynovitis

Motor vehicles accidents

Assault

Scalpel cuts

Zoonotic diseases

Infectious diseases

Dermatoses

Allergic contact

Infectious

Allergies

Dermatitis

Animal hair

Asthma

Airborne dust

Bronchospasm

Equipment

Sinusitis

Medications

Environment

Toxic exposures

Chemical burns

Hepatorenal disease

Medications

Anesthetics

Myelodysplastic disease

Pesticides

Chemicals

Emotional problems

Suicide

Anxiety

Radiation

Radiation burns

Myelodysplastic diseases

Ionizing

Actinic skin lesions

Basal cell carcinoma

Nonionizing

Drug abuse

Drug addiction and

Medications

associated diseases

Alcoholism

Cancer risk

Radiation

Chemicals

Pregnancy risk

Abortion

Chemicals

Preterm births

Radiation

Needle sticks

Puncture trauma

Tetanus

Rabies

Infections

Injection injury

Source: Data from Jeyaretnam et al. (2).

Source: Data from Jeyaretnam et al. (2).

A survey of veterinarians in Minnesota and Wisconsin revealed that 64.6% of respondents had sustained a major animal-related injury in their careers. Seventeen percent were hospitalized within the last year, 25.3% requiring a surgical procedure. Hand injuries were most common in a veterinarian's career (52.6%), followed by trauma to the arms (27.6%) and the head (20.8%). The thorax (8.3%), genitalia (3.9%), and intraabdominal viscera (2.8%) were injured less often. Operative procedures were frequently required to treat veterinarian injury from animal patients. Thirty-five percent of veterinarians required treatment for suture of lacerations, 10% for reduction of fracture/dislocation, and 5% for dental work during their career. One craniotomy and one carotid artery repair were necessary. Mechanisms of injury were animal kick (35.5%), bite (34%), crush (11.7%), scratch (3.8%), and miscellaneous causes (14.9%), including the patient pushing, goring, head butting, running over, and falling on the veterinarian. Additional work-related hazards included zoonotic disease, autoinoculation of live brucella vaccine, and self-inflicted scalpel injuries from sudden patient movement. The most common animals involved were bovine (46.5%), canine (24.2%), and equine (15.2%). Lost days from work secondary to animal injury averaged 1.3 days in 1986 and 8.5 days during the veterinarian's career. Job-related automobile accidents also occurred. Veterinarians averaged more than 300 miles driven per week, and only 56% reported following the speed limit. Fifteen percent did not wear seat belts. Self-treatment of injuries was common (5).

Even though animal bites are common and a real risk for rabies exists, surveys have demonstrated a relatively low rate of rabies immunization in veterinarians and veterinary workers. The cost of preexposure rabies vaccine was found to be a major barrier, especially in young, part-time workers (6).

In a survey of all 1970 to 1980 female graduates of all United States veterinary colleges, 64.0% of all respondents reported one or more needle sticks after graduation. Substances most often injected include vaccines, antibiotics, anesthetics, and animal blood. The estimated overall needle stick injury rate was 9.3 sticks per 100 person-years of practice, comparable to reported rates among health care workers such as nurses, laboratory technicians, and hospital housekeeping staff. All-small-animal and mixed-practice veterinarians demonstrated the highest rates, with all-large-animal practitioners demonstrating a rate lower by 40% (7).

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