PHOENIX (AP) -- The number of cases of people treated in Arizona for dog bites has risen dramatically in the last few years, the state's top health official said Thursday, citing a study his staff compiled in response to a recent mauling of a boy that generated national attention.
State Department of Health Services director Will Humble said one of his colleagues came to him after helping to treat the badly injured 4-year-old boy last month. Dr. Bentley Bobrow, the department's EMS medical director, happened to be working in the emergency department at Maricopa Medical Center when Kevin Vicente was brought in Feb. 20.
"He said there was this kid that came in, and (the boy) was completely torn apart. It was so sad to see," said Humble, who called dog bites a "public health issue."
Their ensuing discussion led Humble to ask a team of employees to gather vital statistics on emergency room visits and overnight hospitalizations for people suffering from severe dog bites. The department's report, which was released this week, found incidents that required hospitalization have more than doubled in the last five years.
"I was really surprised to see how big of an increase we've seen in the severe dog-bite injuries," Humble said.
While emergency room visits stayed relatively flat, there was a 139 percent increase in patients requiring at least one night of hospital stay, Humble said.
Agency researchers calculated that 2,358 people were hospitalized between 2008 and 2012.
Humble said 34,151 emergency room visits involving dog bites were documented in that same period. Overall, the health care costs involved in all the incidents amounted to $55 million.
The report showed more than 70 percent of the severe dog bites occurred in the home and a majority with children.
"I would have expected more of the dog bites to happen other places - streets, parks," Humble said.
The report is an important reminder that dog owners should be aware of how their pets behave around others, especially children, Humble said.
"No matter who you are or who your pet is, there's a level of responsibility," Humble said. "You owe it to yourself, to your family and to your community to be a responsible dog owner."
Kevin Vicente, who had a broken eye socket and jaw in the attack, faces months of surgeries. Meanwhile, a Phoenix judge on Tuesday spared the life of the pit bull, Mickey. A judge ordered that Mickey be neutered, defanged and given an identifying microchip. The dog would also not be allowed to be adopted.
The possibility of euthanasia sent animal activists and dog lovers into an uproar on social media. Pro-Mickey supporters established a Facebook page, YouTube video and even a candlelight vigil as part of a "Save Mickey" campaign.
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Reported dog bites in Maricopa County (Maricopa County Animal Care and Control keeps statistics for fiscal year, not calendar year):
7/1/07 – 6/30/08 – 4,298 dog bites reported
7/1/08 – 6/30/09 – 4,682 dog bites reported
7/1/09 – 6/30/10 – 4,624 dog bites reported
7/1/10 – 6/30/11 – 4,796 dog bites reported
7/1/11 – 6/30/12 – 5,090 dog bites reported
7/1/12 – 6/30/13 – 4,878 dog bites reported