The urban pet population has increased considerably in France during the last twenty years. Two main questions need to be answered regarding rabies and other bite transmitted zoonoses: What is the actual incidence rate of dog and cat bites in an urban area; and how sensitive is the animal bite reporting system? To answer these questions, four surveys were conducted in the Lyon area, France, in 1989: 1) an analysis of the consultation reports to the Pasteur Institute and of the bite reports sent by veterinarians to the local veterinary services for 1987 and 1988; 2) a survey of 10 veterinary clinics located in the Lyon area and an analysis of their bite reports for the period May 1987 — April 1989; 3) a questionnaire survey to 175 clients of these veterinary clinics; 4) a street survey of a random sample of the Lyon adult population (310 questionnaires).
Bite incidence rates ranged from 10/100,000 persons/year for rabies post-exposure treatments to 37.5/100,000 persons/year for reported bites. However, less than half of the bite reports from the ten veterinary clinics were submitted to the veterinary services.
The surveys conducted among pet owners and the general population indicated that, overall, bites were common events (3.4%) and occurred more often in pet owners (8.6%). In 74% of the cases, victims belonged to the pet owner's family and one fourth of the accidents occurred when playing with the pet. However, 12% of the accidents resulted from apparently unprovoked aggressions. According to these data, estimates of the incidence rate of bites for the Lyon area were at least one hundred times higher than the official reported rate of 37.5 bites/100,000 persons/year.