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.
Pain, bleeding, numbness and tingling may occur with any human bite.
Symptoms from bites may be mild to severe, including:
- Breaks or major cuts in the skin, with or without bleeding
- Bruising (discoloration of the skin)
- Crushing injuries that can cause severe tissue tears and scarring
- Puncture wounds
- Tendon or joint injury resulting in decreased motion and function of the injured tissue
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.
- If the bite is on the neck, head, face, hand, fingers, or feet, call your provider right away.
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 there is an infection that 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.
Most human bites will heal without causing an infection or lasting harm to the tissue. Some bites will need surgery to clean the wound and repair the damage. Even minor bites may need to be closed with sutures (stitches). Deep or extensive bites may result in significant scarring.
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 911 or the local emergency number.
- 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, ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 10th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2023:chap 52.
Goldstein EJC, Abrahamian FM. Bites. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 315.
Hunstad DA. Animal and human bites. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 743.
Review Date 4/16/2022
Updated by: Jesse Borke, MD, CPE, FAAEM, FACEP, Attending Physician at Kaiser Permanente, Orange County, CA. Also reviewed by David C. Dugdale, MD, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.