Animal and Human Bites
Minor animal and human bites usually can be treated at home. If you do not have an increased chance of getting an infection, do not have other injuries, and do not need treatment by a doctor or a tetanus shot, you can clean and bandage a bite at home.
After you have stopped the bleeding, Reference check your symptoms to determine if and when you need to see your doctor.
Clean the wound
Reference Clean the animal or human bite as soon as possible to reduce the chance of infection and scarring.
- Wash the wound for 5 minutes with large amounts of cool water and soap (mild dishwashing soap, such as Ivory, works well). Some nonprescription products are available for wound cleaning that numb the area so cleaning doesn't hurt as much. Be sure to read the product label for correct use.
- Don't use rubbing alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, iodine, or Mercurochrome, which can harm the tissue and slow healing.
Some bites cause only bruising (contusions) at the bite site but do not break the skin. These bites usually do not become infected.
Stitches, staples, or skin adhesives (also called liquid skin)
Determine whether your bite needs to be treated by a doctor. Bites may need to be closed with Reference sutures, staples, or skin adhesives so that they won't leave a large scar. Bites to the hand are not usually closed because closing the bite wound may increase your chance of having an infection. Cat bites are rarely closed because they are usually no larger than a puncture.
Your doctor will tell you how to Reference take care of your stitches or staples and when to return to have them removed. Reference Skin adhesives usually do not need to be removed, but your doctor may wish to see you to check on the wound. Be sure to carefully follow your doctor's instructions. If you are unsure of how to care for your wound or have questions, call your doctor for instructions.
Consider applying a bandage
Most bites heal well and may not need a bandage. You may need to protect the bite from dirt and irritation. Be sure to clean the bite thoroughly before bandaging it to reduce the risk of infection occurring under the bandage.
- Select the bandage carefully. There are many products available. Do not use liquid skin bandages and moisture-enhancing bandages unless your doctor tells you to. These types of dressings may seal in bacteria that could cause an infection.
- If you use a cloth-like bandage, apply a clean bandage when your bandage gets wet or soiled. If a bandage is stuck to a scab, soak it in warm water to soften the scab and make the bandage easier to remove. If available, use a nonstick dressing. There are many bandage products available. Be sure to read the product label for correct use.
- Watch for Reference signs of infection Opens New Window. If an infection develops under a bandage, a visit to your doctor may be needed.
- An antibiotic ointment, such as polymyxin B sulfate (for example, Polysporin) or bacitracin, will keep the bandage from sticking to the wound. Apply the ointment lightly to the wound. Antibiotic ointments have not been shown to improve healing. Be sure to read the product label about skin sensitivity. If a skin rash or itching under the bandage develops, stop using the ointment. The rash may be caused by an Reference allergic reaction Opens New Window to the ointment.
- Use an adhesive strip to hold the edges of a wound together. Always put an adhesive strip across a wound to hold the edges together, not lengthwise. You can Reference make a butterfly bandage at home Opens New Window Reference Opens New Window or purchase one to help hold the skin edges together.
- Determine whether you need a Reference tetanus shot.
- You may have a localized reaction to a tetanus shot. Symptoms include warmth, swelling, and redness at the injection site. A fever of up to 100°F (37.8°C) may occur. Home treatment can help reduce the discomfort.
An Reference ice or cold pack may help reduce swelling and bruising. Never apply ice directly to a wound or the skin. This could cause tissue damage.
Elevate the injured area on pillows while applying ice and anytime you are sitting or lying down. Try to keep the area at or above the level of your heart to reduce swelling.
|Try a nonprescription medicine to help treat your fever or pain:|
Talk to your child's doctor before switching back and forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.
|Be sure to follow these safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:|
After the bite
Many states require that animal control authorities be notified of animal bites. Even if your state law does not require you to report animal bites, you may wish to call animal control to report the bite. They can help you determine whether the animal that bit you:
- Has been properly vaccinated.
- Needs to be observed for signs of illness. A healthy pet that has bitten someone should be confined and observed for 10 days to see whether it develops symptoms of rabies.
- Is a rabies carrier in your area and whether you need to be vaccinated to prevent Reference rabies Opens New Window.
- Is a danger to others.
If you are unable to find a phone number for animal control in the front pages of the telephone book, contact the police or sheriff's office for the number.
Symptoms to watch for during home treatment
Reference Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home treatment:
- Reference Signs of infection Opens New Window develop.
- Signs of loss of function develop.
- Pain gets worse.
- The wound does not heal.
- Symptoms become more severe or more frequent.
|By:||Reference Healthwise Staff||Last Revised: Reference June 6, 2012|
|Medical Review:||Reference William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Reference H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine