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Bite Injuries

Overview

Bite injuries, such as those from a dog or cat, are incredibly common and can cause immense damage to the structure of the hand, both as a result of the bite and from subsequent infection. Although most bite injuries are the result of an animal bite, one-third of all hand infections are caused by human bites.

  • Symptoms

    • Inability to bend or straighten the fingers
    • Loss of sensation in the area around the bite
    • Mild to intense pain
    • Pus discharge
    • Red streaks emanating from the bite wound
    • Swelling or tenderness
    • Warmth around the bite
  • Prevention

    • Avoid contact with wild animals, both alive and dead, since the saliva of the animals can carry viruses and other infections.
    • Cover and secure garbage containers to keep wild animals away.
    • Don’t leave young children alone with animals and teach kids not to roughhouse, even with a pet.
    • Don’t make contact with the face of an unfamiliar animal with any part of your body, including the hands.
    • Learn to read animals’ body language. A rigid body, tail at half-mast, staring, angry barking or a crouched position all indicate an animal feels threatened and could potentially bite.
  • Risk factors

    • Contact with wild animals or domesticated pets
    • Contact with people who may bite
  • Diagnosis

    • Medical history and symptom review. When you visit a medical provider following a bite injury, he or she will review your symptoms and ask questions about what or who bit you.
    • Physical examination. Because infection is common following bite injuries, your provider will do a thorough physical exam of the bite locations. He or she will also evaluate for signs of nerve or tendon damage, as well as look for red lines radiating from the bite, which can be a sign of infection.
    • Additional tests. To determine whether bones in your hand have been fractured or teeth or other foreign matter have been left behind after a bite, your medical provider will likely order an X-ray.
  • Treatment

    • For a superficial human bite wound in which the skin is not broken, wash the wound thoroughly, using either soap and water or some type of antiseptic.
    • Once the human bite wound has been cleaned, apply an antibiotic ointment to the area and cover it.
    • Even if you don’t believe the human bite injury is serious, watch it carefully and report any swelling, drainage or other significant changes in color to a medical provider.
    • For an animal bite, apply firm pressure to the bite wound to stop bleeding. Seek medical attention for any animal bite that breaks the skin.
    • Depending on the severity of the wound, your medical provider may stitch it and prescribe antibiotics if infection is suspected.
    • If there’s a risk of rabies based on the bite injury, intravenous immune globulin may also be given to prevent infection by the rabies virus.
    • For severe bite injuries, surgical debridement or cleansing of the wound may be necessary.
  • Follow-up care

    • If an antibiotic is prescribed, take the entire course. Do not stop taking the medication when the wound seems to improve.
    • Keep the area around the bite wound clean and protected from contact and debris
    • If you suspect infection, due to a red line appearing around the bite wound, seek medical attention.