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Human Bite

Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger HendersonReviewed on 29.04.2024 | 5 minutes read

Human bites, though relatively uncommon compared to bites from animals, can pose significant health risks and complications if not properly addressed. Whether the result of an altercation, accident, or even playful interaction, human bites have the potential to cause injury, infection, and other adverse effects. In this article, we'll delve into the causes, risks, and treatment options for human bites to promote awareness and safety.

Saliva is full of bacteria and possibly viruses, so if someone has bitten you or your child, it’s important to assess it carefully and seek prompt treatment. If the skin is broken, there’s a chance of infection getting in, and this usually requires antibiotics.

Risks associated with human bites

Human bites carry several risks and potential complications, including:

  1. Infection. The human mouth harbours a diverse array of bacteria, some of which can cause infection if introduced into the skin through a bite wound. Common pathogens implicated in human bite infections include Streptococcus, Staphylococcus, and anaerobic bacteria.

  2. Tissue damage. Human bites can cause various types of tissue damage, ranging from superficial scratches and bruising to deep puncture wounds or avulsion injuries, depending on the force and severity of the bite.

  3. Transmission of bloodborne pathogens. In cases where the skin is broken and blood is exchanged, human bites may pose a risk of transmitting bloodborne pathogens such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C, or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), particularly if the biting individual is infected.

  4. Psychological impact. Beyond the physical consequences, human bites can also have psychological implications, causing distress, trauma, or interpersonal conflicts among individuals involved.

What should I do if I am bitten?

  • If the bite appears to be minor and there's no break in the skin, it would be sensible to watch and wait for any signs of infection or discomfort. Mild bruising may occur, but this should improve on its own.
  • If there's any break to the skin, clean the wound under cool running water immediately and pat dry with sterile gauze or a clean towel or tissue. If there is bleeding, apply firm pressure with the gauze or towel, and wrap well before seeking help. If there is anything embedded in there, such as a tooth, try to ease it out with the gauze, but don’t force it as this can be safely removed by an emergency team.
  • You can attend your local emergency department, walk-in centre, or urgent care centre for urgent medical attention. If the bite appears fairly minor, you could call your doctor or 111 for same-day advice.
  • If the skin breaks, you will likely be given a course of antibiotics and offered stitches to help it heal. If there is a risk of damage to a joint, bone, or nerve, excessive bleeding, or the wound is deep, your team may seek a specialist opinion and perform further tests, such as an X-ray or another scan.
  • Once home, you should keep the wound clean and dry, and apply dressings as directed.

When to worry about a bite?

Bacteria is the most likely infectious agent, but there’s the possibility of others. If you think there’s a high risk of blood-borne viruses such as HIV or hepatitis, and you should speak to a doctor urgently about getting protection against this – although bear in mind that the chance of you contracting this is rare.

Watch out for any signs of infection, such as the area around the injury becoming red, swollen, hot or sore, yellow or white pus oozing out, you start feeling unwell or feverish, or you finding it difficult or painful to move any joints or muscles under the bite. Return to the emergency if this is the case.

Healthwords Pharmacist top tips

Clean the wound thoroughly. Rinse the bite wound with soap and warm water to remove any dirt, debris, or bacteria. Gently pat the area dry with a clean towel.

Apply antiseptic. After cleaning the wound, apply an antiseptic solution like TCP or topical antibiotic ointment to reduce the risk of infection. If necessary, cover the wound with a sterile bandage or dressing.

Control bleeding. If the bite wound is bleeding, apply gentle pressure with a clean cloth or sterile gauze to stop the bleeding. Elevate the injured area if possible to help reduce swelling.

Seek medical attention. Regardless of the severity of the bite, it's essential to seek medical evaluation and treatment, especially if the wound is deep or large or shows signs of infection. A healthcare professional can assess the wound, clean it thoroughly, and determine if further medical intervention, such as stitches or antibiotics, is necessary.

Monitor for signs of infection. Keep a close eye on the bite wound for signs of infection, such as redness, swelling, warmth, increased pain, or drainage of pus. Seek medical attention if you develop any of these symptoms.

Update tetanus vaccination. Ensure that your tetanus vaccination is up to date, especially if the bite wound is contaminated with dirt, saliva, or other bodily fluids. Tetanus vaccination may be recommended if it has been more than five years since your last booster shot.

Do not ignore animal bites. If the bite was from an animal, particularly a wild or stray animal, seek medical attention immediately, as animal bites carry a higher risk of infection and transmission of rabies or other diseases especially in dogs.

Report the incident if necessary. If the bite occurred in a public setting or involved criminal behaviour, consider reporting the incident to the appropriate authorities, such as law enforcement or animal control, to ensure accountability and prevent future incidents.

Follow up as directed. Follow any instructions provided by healthcare professionals for wound care, medication administration, and follow-up appointments. Attend all scheduled follow-up visits to monitor the healing process and address any concerns promptly.

How did the bite happen?

If your child has been affected, you should find out the circumstances of this. Young children can sometimes be physical with each other, but this is unacceptable behaviour, and you should speak to a teacher or adult responsible for the child who has bitten your own.

Bites can sometimes occur in contact sports – intentionally or unintentionally – or when one person punches another in the mouth.

Bites can also occur because of domestic violence or sexual abuse. If this is the case for you, we would urge you to seek help. This may not be the only form of abuse you’ve endured, or it may just be the start, and abuse can be physical, emotional, coercive, sexual or financial. The pattern of abusers usually escalates rather than improves, so do recognise this early, seek solace in those you trust, and seek help to escape.

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 29.04.2024
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