Symptoms and Signs of Human Bites

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 11/10/2021

Doctor's Notes on Human Bites

Human bites, in many instances, show signs and symptoms of skin penetration in the shape of a person's teeth that is lacerated, bleeding, and/or bruised. However, if the person with the suspected human bite was drunk or was fighting, that person may have hit someone in the teeth resulting in lacerations on his or her hand and/or fist (knuckles) that are essentially human bites. Consequently, signs and symptoms of human bites also include any skin breaks possibly caused by human teeth. Other signs and symptoms may include

  • increasing pain and tenderness at the bite site,
  • redness, and/or
  • increase swelling at the site.

Later developments (hours to days) may include

  • pus drainage,
  • red streaks, and
  • swollen glands associated with the bite site.

Some bites result in visible tissue loss and/or bone, cartilage, or tendon damage (for example, finger, nose, ear, or scalp bites). These human bites are difficult to treat. Any bite marks in the genital area of children may be a sign of abuse.

Human bites may happen inadvertently during sports activities or accidentally during other activities, such as when a child intentionally bites another child or when adults fight, especially with their fists. However, some patients may not know they may have had a human bite.

What Are the Treatments of Human Bites?

The first treatments include the following:

  • Stop bleeding with pressure applied with a clean cloth.
  • Use soap and fresh water to wash the bite (or cuts by teeth).
  • Apply a non-stick bandage (some suggest first apply a topical antibiotic).
  • Go to the emergency department. You may need a tetanus booster shot.
  • If the bite or cut breaks the skin barrier, the person needs a further medical caregiver examination to determine the extent of damage, if any, to nerves or tendons.
  • Many caregivers recommend antibiotics as human bites and cuts by teeth are often contaminated and become infected if not treated.

If pain, swelling, redness, or pus develops, seek medical care.

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.