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Human bite

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read

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.

What should I do next?

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. There may be mild bruising, but this should improve on its own.

If there's any break in 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 go to your local emergency department, walk-in center, or urgent care center for urgent medical attention. If the bite appears fairly minor, you could call your doctor for same-day advice.

If there is a break in the skin, you will likely be given a course of antibiotics. You may be offered stitches to help it heal. If there is a risk of damage to a joint, bone, or nerve, there's excessive bleeding, or the wound is deep, your team may seek a specialist opinion, and they may do 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?

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, 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 find it difficult or painful to move any joints or muscles under the bite. Return to the emergency department if this is the case.

How did the bite happen?

If your child has been affected, you should find out the circumstances. Young children can sometimes be physical with each other, but this is unacceptable behavior, 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 recognize this early, seek solace in those you trust, and seek help to escape.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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