What are human bites?

Just as you may receive a bite from an animal, you can also be bitten by a human. It’s most likely that a child will inflict the bite. After dog and cat bites, human bites are the next most common bites seen in emergency rooms.

Human bites can often lead to infection because of the amount of bacteria and viruses in a human mouth. If you have a bite that has become infected, you may need medication or surgery.

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, human bite wounds cause about one-third of all hand infections.

Who is at risk for human bites?

Biting is most common among young children when they are curious, angry, or frustrated. Children and their caretakers are frequently at risk for bite wounds.

Fighting can also lead to bites in both children and adults, including skin that’s broken by a tooth during a punch to the mouth. Sometimes human bite wounds are accidental, resulting from a fall or collision.

Recognizing if a bite is infected

A bite may be mild, moderate, or severe. You may have breaks in the skin, with or without blood. Bruising may also occur. Depending on the location of the bite, you might have injury to a joint or tendon.

Symptoms of infection include:

  • redness, swelling, and heat around the wound
  • a wound that discharges pus
  • pain or tenderness on or around the wound
  • fever or chills

Because of the large quantity of bacteria in the human mouth, a human bite can easily lead to infection. See a doctor about any bite that breaks the skin.

Seek medical help right away if you have pain, swelling, or redness in the area of the wound. Bites near your face, feet, or hands may be more serious. A weakened immune system increases the potential for complications from a human bite.

Treating human bites: First aid and medical assistance

First aid

Cleaning and bandaging the wound are frequent treatments for human bites.

If your child has received a bite, wash your hands with antibacterial soap before tending to the bite. If possible, wear clean medical gloves to reduce the risk of transmitting any bacteria into the wound.

If the wound is mild and there’s no blood, wash it with soap and water. Avoid scrubbing the wound. Use sterile nonstick bandages to cover it. Don’t try to close the wound with tape, as this may trap bacteria in the wound.

If there’s bleeding, raise that area of the body and apply pressure to the wound using a clean cloth or towel.

After cleaning and bandaging the wound, call your doctor right away.

Medical assistance

In some cases, your doctor may prescribe a round of antibiotic therapy to fight bacterial infection. In severe cases, your doctor may administer antibiotics through a vein.

Certain wounds may require stitches, such as those on the face, and surgery may be necessary if there’s damage to a tendon or joint.

How can I prevent human bites?

Children bite for a variety of reasons. They may be too young to realize that they shouldn’t bite, or they may be trying to reduce teething pain. This is when a baby’s first teeth begin to emerge through the gums.

Some very young children bite because they haven’t yet developed social skills, and biting is a way to connect with other children. Biting due to anger or the need to control a situation is also very common.

Parents can help prevent these behaviors by teaching children not to bite. If your child bites, calmly tell them, in simple words at their level, that violent behavior is unacceptable.

What is the long-term outlook?

Recovering from a human bite depends on its severity and whether the wound becomes infected. An infection usually heals within 7 to 10 days if treated properly. Deeper bites may cause scarring and nerve damage.

If you have a child who bites, talk to your doctor about ways to address this behavior. The National Association for Education of Young Children suggests looking for signs that trigger your child’s biting behavior and intervening before your child bites.

They also advocate using positive enforcement when your child does use acceptable behavior when dealing with emotional or social stress.