EDP column by Dr Ketan Dhatariya

“I was recently bitten in a fight and the wound became infected. My GP said that human bites can be nastier than animal bites. Is this true?"

It is very true. Whilst the vast majority of human bites are harmless, those that break the skin can become a serious problem. The chances of getting an infection following a human bite - and these include ‘love bites’ - are higher than following a bite from an animal. If you have been bitten and the skin has been broken, it is very important that the wound is cleaned quickly in running water, and any dirt, or other foreign bodies (including teeth!) are removed. Allow the blood to run because this will help go get rid of any bacteria.

If the bite involves the hands, feet, face, nose or ears then it is important that you see your GP or go to the local Accident and Emergency department. This is especially true if a tendon or ligament is involved. An infection may track along the tissues and become very nasty, very quickly. These may show up as red lines tracking away from the site of the wound. You may also experience tenderness in the armpits if you were bitten on the hand or arm. The potential complications of bites can include infections getting into the blood stream, or into the joints. A bite on the knuckles can involve the tendons and affect the whole hand. These bites, and others that are deep, need assessment in an Accident and Emergency department.

It is very likely that you would have been given some antibiotics to kill off any potential infection that may have been introduced into the wound. As always, it is important to take all of the antibiotics as prescribed to prevent any resistance developing to the antibiotic. It is always worth asking your GP to ensure that your tetanus vaccinations are up to date – they need to be renewed every 10 years or so.

Because of the risk of blood borne viruses such as hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV, it is important to be seen quickly so that proper tests can be done to assess the risks that you have been exposed to. The overall risk of getting these conditions remains very small, but it is important to have them ruled out. It is helpful if the person who bit you is also tested.

For more information about human bites click this link: