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Human bites

Human bites are usually caused by one person biting another, although they may result from a situation in which one person comes into contact with another person's teeth.

In a fight, for example, one person's knuckles may come into contact with another person's teeth, and if the impact breaks the skin, the injury would be considered a bite.

Alternative Names

Bites - human

Considerations

Human bites that break the skin, like all puncture wounds, have a high risk of infection. They also pose a risk of injury to tendons and joints.

Bites are very common among young children. Children often bite to express anger or other negative feelings.

Human bites may be more dangerous than most animal bites. There are germs in some human mouths that can cause infections that are hard to treat. If you have an infected human bite, especially on your hand, you may need to be admitted to the hospital to receive antibiotics through a vein (intravenously). In some cases, you may need surgery.

Symptoms

Bites may produce symptoms ranging from mild to severe:

  • Skin breaks or major cuts with or without bleeding
  • Puncture wounds
  • Bruising
  • Crushing injuries

First Aid

  1. Calm and reassure the person. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap. If time allows, and you have some, put on a pair of protective gloves.
  2. If the area is NOT bleeding severely, wash the wound with mild soap and running water for 3 to 5 minutes and then cover the bite with a clean dressing. Remove the gloves, and wash your own hands again.
  3. If the area is actively bleeding, apply direct pressure with a clean, dry cloth until the bleeding is controlled. Raise the area.
  4. Get medical attention.

Do Not

  • Do NOT ignore any human bite, especially if it is bleeding.
  • Do NOT put the wound into your mouth.

Call immediately for emergency medical assistance if

A doctor should promptly evaluate all human bites that break the skin. Bites may be especially serious when:

  • There is swelling, redness, pus draining from the wound, or pain
  • The bite occurred near the eyes or involved the face, hands, wrists, or feet
  • The person who was bitten has a weakened immune system (for example, from HIV or receiving chemotherapy for cancer) -- the person is at a higher risk for the wound to become infected

Prevention

  • Teach young children not to bite others.
  • Never put your hand near or in the mouth of someone who is having a seizure .

References

Brook I. Management of human and animal bite wounds: an overview. Adv Skin Wound Care. 2005;18:197-203.

Weber EJ. Mammalian bites. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 7th ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby; 2009:chap. 58.

Updated: 1/13/2010

Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.


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