Human Bites (cont.)
When Should I Call the Doctor About a Human Bite?
Even with what appears to be a minor bite, contact a doctor to be sure a tetanus shot is not needed. Once the skin is broken, the doctor should be consulted because the risk of infection is higher. Any sign of infection, even if the affected person have already been seen by the doctor, is a reason to call.
If there is any suspicion that part of a tooth is in the bite wound (foreign body), people should seek medical care as this will increase the risk of the infection.
Using the hospital's emergency department for a human bite is often the proper treatment to seek. Emergency doctors generally have a lot of experience with bites and other wounds. People who do not have a doctor or who cannot get in touch with their doctor may have to use the emergency department even for minor bites in order to get a tetanus shot and a doctor's opinion of the need for other treatment, such as antibiotics.
- Closed fist injuries: Bites over the knuckles are very serious. These are at high risk for infection. Once infected, these bites can lead to major damage to the important parts of the hand. Additionally, the force of punching someone in the mouth can lead to broken bones or cuts in the tendons, and those need expert care. An infected bite in this area will usually require an overnight stay in the hospital.
- Finger chomping injuries: Just like the closed fist injury, this human bite can lead to serious problems. The bones and tendons can be injured and are at risk for infection.
- Bites with tissue loss: If a significant part of skin and muscle tissue is lost, the patient needs to seek medical care as soon as possible. An expert (for example, a hand surgeon) can often repair loss of a tissue part as the result of a human bite.
- Deep bites: Any bite that bleeds a lot or appears to be more than a scrape needs thorough cleaning and examination.
- Infected bites: Bites that are infected often require the patient to stay in the hospital and receive antibiotics through an IV. The doctor will determine if treatment with oral antibiotics is possible or if IV medication and a hospital stay is warranted.
- Bites of the head in children: Because of the thin nature of the scalp and the risk of a serious infection, any cut in a child's scalp (including the forehead) that was caused by a tooth should be evaluated by a health care professional.
- Bites in other special areas: Bites of the ear and nose are a problem because of the cartilage in this area. Due to decreased blood flow, an infection of the cartilage can be very difficult to treat and can cause permanent damage.
How Are Human Bites Diagnosed?
The doctor will begin an evaluation generally with a series of questions that will include how the bite happened, when it occurred, what first aid procedures were performed, and any symptoms the patient is having. The doctor will want to know if tetanus shots are up-to-date, so bring any records of immunizations the person may have. A list of the person's medical problems and medications will also help expedite care.
- Physical examination: This involves looking in and around the wound to see what damage has occured. With minor bites this is often just a quick look to see if the skin is broken or not. With deeper bites the doctor may have to anesthetize the area to allow a thorough examination of the affected area. Tests of nerve and tendon function (how well a patient can feel things and move body parts) are usually part of the examination.
- X-rays: Most bites will not require this unless a broken bone is possible. X-rays are often obtained on closed fist injuries and other bites to the hand to rule out gas formation or foreign bodies. X-rays may also be obtained if the doctor believes a piece of a broken tooth may be in the wound.
- Blood tests: Blood tests are usually not performed in human bites. Even infected bites do not usually require a blood test to make the diagnosis. If a patient has to stay in the hospital, chances are likely some blood tests will be ordered. If there is a concern about the transmission of HIV or other illness due to a bite, the doctor might order blood tests. These tests can include an HIV test (to determine baseline status) as well as tests to determine if the patient will be able to tolerate other possible medications.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 10/28/2016
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