A human bite need not be intentional — even an accidental injury caused by brushing against the teeth can also be dangerous, especially if the injury is on your hands. Often, the bites are caused by children. Moreover, these can get infected by the bacteria and viruses in our mouths if left untreated, say experts.
Akash K, a 26-year-old from Bangalore, recalls a fight with his friend in 2017, when they both punched each other’s face in anger and were taken to hospital. “My knuckle had scraped against his teeth and started to bleed while his lips had a small cut and needed a stitch. Though my injury was small, the doctors gave me a tetanus injection and put me on medicines. I was also asked to keep an eye on the wound and seek medical attention in case of any swelling.”
Human bites: Should you worry?
“There are two types of bites. The first is the open direct bite where the teeth come in contact with skin, which is common in children. And the second is the indirect or clenched fist bite, where the person sustains an injury after hitting another person’s mouth,” explains Dr Sumaira.
One need not worry about superficial scratches by teeth as they are not serious in nature, assures Dr Muneeb Ur Rashid, academic secretary, North, Association of Emergency Physicians – India. “If the bite or the scratch results in bleeding, redness and swelling, they must visit a doctor,” says Dr Rashid, who is also a consultant in emergency medicine, Anil Baghi Hospital, Ferozpur, Punjab. He adds that human bites are commonly seen in cases of abuse.
Children biting: A part of growing up or cause for concern?
Shweta Raj, a 35-year-old software engineer from Bangalore recalled her fights with her younger sister during their childhood. She says that during their schooldays, her younger sister would often bite her hands in a fit of anger. “As the bite marks stayed for long, I felt humiliated. Being the older sibling, I knew I shouldn’t reciprocate, but it brought in a sense of helplessness as I couldn’t react,” she says. Raj says that all the bites were superficial and weren’t severe. “They were painful, but I never let my parents know. I simply applied oil to soothe the pain. My sister would also feel bad once her anger was under control,” she said.
Dr Quazi Sumaira, consultant pediatric intensivist, Sparsh Hospital, Bangalore says that she has treated a few cases where children have fought among themselves and bitten each other and in some cases, they have bitten their parents, too. “Most cases are not severe as a human’s teeth are not as sharp as an animal’s. The person bitten might have a cut or bleeding only in a few cases. But it’s important for parents to teach children not to hide injuries from them,” she said.
Further, Dr Sumaira highlights that human bites in children are common but go mostly unreported in India. “In the US, about 2.5 lakh bites are reported every year, of which 10% are human bites. However, severe bites are rare — they include just 2–3% of the cases,” she said.
Human bite infection
Dr Rashid explains that the infection can be caused by bacteria from the mouth or the skin. “The human mouth contains millions of bacteria, which can be transferred to the wound after a bite and cause an infection. Similarly, our skin has several bacteria, which a cut wound could be exposed to,” he shared.
According to Dr Rashid, senior citizens, immunocompromised people or those with comorbid conditions need to be careful. They should consult a doctor immediately if they sustain a human bite injury. And if the injury is on their hands, time is of the essence.
“Our hands have fascial spaces that create distinct pathways to spread infection. They have layers of interconnected tissues. When breached by teeth, even a small cut and an infection on one finger can spread to the entire hand, unlike other parts of the body,” explains Dr Rashid.
Treatment for bite
Talking about first aid, Dr Sumaira says, “The wound must be kept under running water for at least three minutes, after which it should be cleaned with an antiseptic disinfectant. In the case of bleeding, try to stop the bleeding with a clean cloth and take the affected person to a hospital.” She also shares that the person is asked to follow up if there are signs such as swelling, and pus formation around the wound.
Dr Sumaira says that the initial symptoms are pain and redness and the infection occurs about three to four days after the injury. “In children, if the bites are on fingers, we check if they have an injury on nerves or tendons and also if required, we take an x-ray to check for fractures as children have tender bones,” she said. Moreover, a tetanus vaccine is also given to prevent the infection in adults as well as children if the child has not been immunized or taken the booster yet.
“The wound or the bite could also turn into a skin abscess when we use surgical method to drain the abscess and also prescribe them a few antibiotics if required to prevent possible infection,” said Dr Rashid.
- Human bites could be dangerous due to the bacteria and viruses present in the mouth that may lead to infection.
- Any bite that causes redness, swelling, and discharge around the wound requires immediate medical attention.
- Two types of human bites are seen. A direct bite is common among children and an indirect bite, also called a clenched fist bite, is when a person sustains injury after hitting another person’s face by scraping or brushing against the teeth.