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human bites

Alternative Names 

A human bite is a wound or tissue injury that results from one human biting another.

What are the signs and symptoms of the injury? 
Signs and symptoms of a human bite may include:
  • a surface skin break with or without bleeding
  • bruising
  • a puncture-type wound
  • injury to deeper tissue, including a major cut or crushing injury
  • infection
What are the causes and risks of the injury? 
Human bites are usually inflicted directly by an actual bite or indirectly when a body part accidentally strikes someone else's mouth such as in a fight. The knuckles are most commonly injured.

Young children, who often bite to express anger or other negative feelings, are frequently involved.

What can be done to prevent the injury? 
It is important to teach children about the dangers of biting someone else. It is also important to avoid putting hands on or in the mouth of someone who is having a seizure.

How is the injury recognised? 
A human bite is diagnosed using a combination of history and physical findings. Often the actual teeth marks are visible. It is important that the injury is evaluated for damage to deeper tissue such as tendons and joints.

What are the treatments for the injury? 
To treat a human bite, a person should:
  • wash his or her hands thoroughly with soap and water.
  • control severe bleeding by applying first aid. This can be done by applying direct pressure with a clean, dry cloth. A person can also elevate the area or apply cool compresses.
  • wash the wound with mild soap and warm running water for at least 3 to 5 minutes if the bite is not bleeding severely.
  • cover the bite with a clean dressing.
  • seek medical help, because of the high risk of infection and the possible need for a tetanus Injection.
What are the side effects of the treatments? 
Side effects are minimal, provided that first aid is given immediately and that infection is diagnosed in the early stages. A tetanus Injection may cause discomfort and swelling at the site of the injection.

What happens after treatment for the injury? 
There can be persistent swelling, redness, and/or pus draining from the wound, persistent pain, and scarring. Adequate treatment and prevention of infection can often prevent these.

Author: James Broomfield, MD
Reviewer: eknowhow Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr John Hearne
Last Updated: 19/12/2004
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

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