Shark Bite (cont.)
IN THIS ARTICLE
When to Seek Medical Care for Shark Bites
See a doctor for all but minor wounds. The doctor will evaluate the wound for significant damage, such as injury to blood vessels, nerves, or internal organs.
Shark Bite Exams and Tests
A person may not always know whether the wound came from a shark or another fish, such as a barracuda. Shark bites can be massive with significant bleeding and tissue loss.
Bites are often crescent-shaped or appear as a series of parallel cuts. Encounters may result in minor wounds, such as abrasions from a shark bump. Some victims have bone fractures (breaks). Others may carry debris, such as shark teeth fragments, that may have been introduced into the wounds during the attack.
Shark Bite and Shark Attack Treatment
All shark bites, even minor ones, require immediate medical attention. First aid to clean the wound and stop bleeding should be applied at the scene. Doctors may start the victim on a course of antibiotics to prevent infection. They also may suture the wounds and could attempt to repair deeper tissue damage if present.
Self-Care at Home for a Shark Bite
Provide emergency care immediately. Control any visible bleeding by applying direct pressure. Keep the victim calm. Provide warmth, since the victim may be chilled from the water and may be suffering from hypothermia (low body temperature).
All shark bite victims should be evaluated by a medical healthcare professional. If only a minor wound is present, consider washing the wound with soap and water and cover it with a clean dressing and seek medical care.
If there is significant injury, activate the emergency medical system and call 911.
Medical Treatment for Shark Attacks
The treatment required will be tailored to the extent of the injury. If there is major injury and the patient has had significant bleeding, the initial medical care will be directed at stabilizing the ABCs (airway, breathing and circulation). Oxygen may be used, intravenous lines started with fluids and or blood transfusions required. If there is tissue loss or major wound, these may need to be cleaned or debrided (where dead tissue is cut away) in the operating room by a surgeon.
Isolated minor wounds may be able to be treated in the emergency department or a doctor's office. These wounds need to be cleansed thoroughly to prevent infection. With any penetrating wound caused by an animal bite, debris or foreign objects can be pushed into the tissue and needs to be identified and removed if possible an x-ray may be used to identify such objects.
The healthcare provider will likely exam the wound for type of injury, and look for associated injuries like nerve or artery damage. This may require using anesthetic to explore the wound to its full depth to make certain no deep structures are involved.
The key to preventing wound infections is aggressive cleaning. This can begin at the scene using tap water to irrigate the wound. The healthcare provider may want to further wash out the injured area.
Sutures may or may not be used, depending upon the care provider's concern about the risk of infection. A wound that is sutured or stitched shut is at higher risk of becoming infected.
The use of antibiotics prophylactically to prevent infection needs to be individualized for each patient.
The doctor must first treat life-threatening injuries. With shark attacks, massive tissue loss or bleeding causes most deaths. The doctor will attempt to stop bleeding by applying direct pressure. IV fluids and blood products will be needed for any major wounds.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 7/26/2016
Eric Mowatt-Larssen, MD
Paul Auerbach, MD
George Burgess, MSc
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