Bites

Treating bites

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If you've been bitten by an animal or human, clean the wound immediately.

Remove anything from the bite, such as teeth, and clean the wound thoroughly by running warm tap water over it for a couple of minutes.

Encourage the wound to bleed by gently squeezing it, unless it's already bleeding freely. If the bite is painful, you can take painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen.

Children under 16 years of age shouldn't take aspirin.

If the animal bite is very severe, it's possible that a body part, such as a finger or ear, may have been bitten off. If this is the case, wash the body part with tap water and place it in a plastic bag or sealed container.

Put the container into a tub of iced water (but not frozen) to keep it cool, so that it can be transported to hospital. It may be possible to re-attach the body part using reconstructive surgery.

Medical treatment

Severe bites that need medical treatment will be cleaned, with any damaged or dead tissue removed (known as debridement).

If there's a risk of infection, the wound will be left open, as this makes it easier to keep it clean. If the risk of infection is believed to be low, the wound can be stitched up.

Wounds that bleed excessively will be closed to prevent blood loss, despite the risk of infection.

Antibiotics

Antibiotics are given as a precaution when it's believed there's an increased risk of infection. They're usually recommended for:

  • all cases of cat bites
  • all cases of human bites
  • animal bites to the hands, feet or face
  • any bites that have caused puncture wounds
  • wounds that need to be closed due to excessive bleeding
  • wounds that require debridement (removal of damaged tissue)
  • wounds that involve joints, ligaments or tendons
  • people with prosthetic (artificial) joints or valves
  • people with a weakened immune system (immunosuppression) from a health condition such as diabetes or HIV, or as a side effect of treatments such as chemotherapy or a splenectomy (removal of the spleen)

In most cases, a three-day course of an antibiotic called co-amoxiclav is recommended, as it's a broad-spectrum antibiotic (effective against a wide range of different bacteria).

Co-amoxiclav is available in tablet or liquid form. Possible side effects include nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Co-amoxiclav belongs to the penicillin family of antibiotics, so it won't be suitable for you if you have a previous history of penicillin allergy (which affects around 1 in 15 people).

If you do, you should tell the doctor in charge of your care. Alternative antibiotics are available, such as doxycycline or ciprofloxacin hydrochloride in combination with metronidazole.

Additional treatment

Additional treatment may be required if you have:

  • a deep puncture wound that may have damaged bones, joints, muscles, tendons or nerves
  • a facial wound
  • a bite where a foreign body, such as a tooth, may be embedded in the wound
  • a wound to an area with a reduced blood supply, such your nose or ears (wounds to these areas could take longer to heal and have a higher risk of infection)
  • an infected wound that doesn't respond to treatment

Further reconstructive surgery may be required for serious or complex wounds. Serious infections, or infections that don't respond to oral antibiotics, can be treated with injections of antibiotics (intravenous antibiotics).

Blood tests and X-rays

If you've been bitten by a human, you'll be asked if you or they could have a blood-borne virus, such as hepatitis Bhepatitis C or HIV, which could have been spread by the bite.

If you're unsure and it's thought there may be a high risk of infection, you may be referred for blood tests and offered a course of hepatitis B vaccinations.

For example, you may need to have blood tests if you were bitten by a person known to inject illegal drugs, as this increases your risk of contracting a blood-borne virus.

Although cases have been reported, the chance of hepatitis B, hepatitis C or HIV being spread by a bite is believed to be low.

You may be referred for an X-ray if you have a closed-fist bite (a bite to your hand from contact with someone else’s teeth). This is because there's a small chance a fragment of tooth could be embedded in your fist.