Shark Bite Symptoms
Most people do not know a shark is nearby before an attack. Some people receive only a bump from the shark, which likely occurs when the shark is only investigating what is going on at the water's surface. Because a shark's skin contains tiny toothlike structures called denticles, it is as abrasive as coarse sandpaper. Thus, a bumping can result in a significant abrasion (scrape).
Shark jaws contain multiple rows of sharp, serrated, triangular teeth, and are continuously replaced as they shed. Classic shark bites are crescent-shaped. Another common wound pattern is a series of parallel cuts caused by the shark raking its teeth on the person. Sharks bites can cause massive tissue loss, with a tooth-to-tooth biting force that has been estimated to approach, in the extreme, 18 tons per square inch. Most bites, however, result in cuts that are not deep, or puncture wounds that do not cause blood vessel or nerve injury.
When to Seek Medical Care
See a doctor for all shark bites. The doctor will evaluate the wound for significant damage, such as injury to blood vessels, nerves, or internal organs.
Exams and Tests
A person may not always know whether the wound came from a shark or another fish, such as a barracuda. Shark bites can cause significant bleeding and tissue loss.
Bites are often crescent-shaped or appear as a series of parallel cuts. Encounters may result in minor wounds, such as abrasions from a shark bump. Some victims have bone fractures (breaks). Others may carry debris, such as shark teeth fragments, that may have been introduced into the wounds during the attack.
Shark Bite Treatment
Self-Care at Home
Provide emergency care. Control any visible bleeding by applying direct pressure. Keep the victim calm. Provide warmth, since the victim may be chilled from the water and may be in shock.
Call 911 to transport the person to an emergency medical facility. A doctor should evaluate all wounds.
Thoroughly wash even minor wounds with soap and water. Cover wounds with clean gauze.
The doctor must first treat life-threatening injuries. With shark attacks, massive tissue loss or bleeding causes most deaths. The doctor will attempt to stop bleeding by applying direct pressure. IV fluids and blood products will be needed for any major wounds.
Some people with shark bites may need to be taken quickly to the operating room to remove dead tissue, control bleeding, and clean the wound thoroughly.
All wounds will need aggressive cleaning with fluids to help prevent infection. The doctor will inspect the wound closely for tooth fragments or debris left in the wound. An X-ray may help detect these foreign bodies. The wound will probably be closed (stitched) loosely because of the risk of infection. A tetanus booster is likely given if the person has not had one within the last 5 years. The doctor may start antibiotics to help prevent infection.