This leaflet gives a guide as to what you should do following a human bite.
Clean the wound
You should clean the wound no matter how small the cut to the skin.
There are many germs (bacteria) in human mouths. Cleaning will reduce the chance of infection. If the wound is small, you can clean it yourself. Just use ordinary tap water. Wounds that are large, deep, or dirty are best cleaned by a nurse or doctor. Allow the wound to bleed. However, if the wound is bleeding heavily, a clean dressing or sterile pad should be used to apply pressure until you can get medical help. After cleaning, cover the wound with a sterile, non-sticky dressing.
Consider going to hospital or seeing a doctor
If part of the wound has dead or damaged skin then it may need to be trimmed or removed. This is because infection is more likely to develop in dead skin. Some wounds may need to be closed - they can be stitched, glued, or pulled together with sticky tape. However, often it is safest to let bite wounds heal naturally, as they may be less likely to get infected. Wounds might be closed if you are seen within six hours of the bite happening or if the wound is on your face. Wounds will be left open if they are more likely to get infected - for example, bites to the hands. They will be left open if it has been more than 24 hours since the bite. Sometimes the wound will be closed a few days later, when the risk of infection is thought to have passed.
A short course of antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent infection developing in the bite wounds. Some doctors feel antibiotics should always be prescribed for human bites. Others feel antibiotics are not always necessary, but may be prescribed in certain situations. For example:
- Bite wounds which are large or deep.
- The bite wound is on the face, hand or foot. Bite wounds to the hand are the most likely to get infected.
- If your resistance to infection is low. For example, if you are on chemotherapy; have no working spleen; have diabetes; have an immune system problem such as AIDS, etc.
- If you have an artificial heart valve (and sometimes, if you have an artificial joint).
Are you up to date with your tetanus immunisations? If not, you may need a booster dose.
HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C
If you are bitten by a person who has one of these viral infections, there is a small risk that the infection can pass on to you. There is a much smaller risk after a bite than from a contaminated needle. See your doctor immediately if this is a concern.
- To protect against HIV, you can be given medication which counters the HIV virus.
- To protect against hepatitis B, you can be given an injection to be immunised against hepatitis B.
- Currently there is no treatment to prevent hepatitis C infection from developing. However the risk of getting it from a bite is very small. If it is a possibility, your doctor will be able to do blood tests to make sure you are not developing it. In the unlikely event that you do, you can have treatment early.
What to look out for after a bite
The most common complication following a bite is infection of the wound. See a doctor if the skin surrounding a wound becomes more tender, painful, swollen, or reddened over the few days following the bite.
Rarely, some germs (bacteria) can get into the bloodstream through a wound and cause a serious infection in the body. See a doctor if you become generally unwell with a high temperature (fever), shivers, or other worrying symptoms within a week or so after a bite.
Dr Tim Kenny
Dr Mary Harding
Prof Cathy Jackson