A human bite can break, puncture, or tear the skin. Bites that break the skin can be very serious because of the risk for infection.
Human bites can occur in two ways:
- If someone bites you
- If your hand comes into contact with a person's teeth and breaks the skin, such as during a fist fight
Bites are very common among young children. Children often bite to express anger or other negative feelings.
Males between 10 and 34 years old are more likely to be victims of human bites.
Human bites may be more dangerous than animal bites. Certain germs in some human mouths can cause hard-to-treat infections. You can also get certain diseases from a human bite, such as HIV/AIDS or hepatitis B or hepatitis C.
Symptoms from bites may be mild to severe, including:
- Skin breaks or major cuts, with or without bleeding
- Puncture wounds
- Crushing injuries that can cause severe tissue tears
- Tendon or joint injuries
If you or your child gets a bite that breaks the skin, you should see a health care provider within 24 hours for treatment.
If you are caring for someone who was bitten:
- Calm and reassure the person.
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before treating the wound.
- If the wound is bleeding, put on protective gloves if you have them.
- Wash your hands afterward, as well.
To care for the wound:
- Stop the wound from bleeding by applying direct pressure with a clean, dry cloth.
- Wash the wound. Use mild soap and warm, running water. Rinse the bite for 3 to 5 minutes.
- Apply an antibacterial ointment to the wound. This may help reduce the chance for infection.
- Put on a dry, sterile bandage.
Get medical attention within 24 hours.
- For deeper wounds, you may need stitches.
- Your provider may give you a tetanus shot.
- You may need to take antibiotics. If the infection has spread, you may need to receive antibiotics through a vein (IV).
- For a bad bite, you may need surgery to repair the damage.
DO NOT ignore any human bite, especially if it is bleeding. And DO NOT put your mouth on the wound.
Complications from bite wounds include:
- An infection that spreads quickly
- Damage to tendons or joints
A human bite is more likely to become infected in people who have:
- Weakened immune systems due to medicines or disease
- Peripheral arterial disease (arteriosclerosis, or poor circulation)
How to Prevent Human Bites
Prevent bites by:
- Teaching young children not to bite others.
- Never putting your hand near or in the mouth of someone who is having a seizure.
When to Call the Doctor
See a provider within 24 hours for any bite that breaks the skin.
Call your provider or go to an emergency room if:
- The bleeding does not stop after a few minutes. For serious bleeding, call your local emergency number, such as 911.
- There is swelling, redness, or pus draining from the wound.
- You notice red streaks that spread out from the wound.
- The bite is on the head, face, neck, or hands.
- The bite is deep or large.
- You see exposed muscle or bone.
- You are not sure if the wound needs stitches.
- You have not had a tetanus shot in 5 years.
Bites - human - self-care
Eilbert WP. Mammalian bites. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 54.
Goldstein EJC, Abrahamian FM. Bites. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases, Updated Edition. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 320.
Review Date 4/7/2018
Updated by: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Emeritus, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.