When to Seek Medical Care
See a doctor for all but minor wounds. 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 be massive with 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.
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 prevent infection.
Keep a close eye on the bite wounds for evidence of infection. Seawater contains many bacteria not often encountered on land. If these cause infection, treatment requires appropriate antibiotics.
Follow up with a doctor if the wound appears to be worsening, as evidenced by increasing pain, swelling, or discharge (pus or reddish-brown fluid).
Follow up if a fever develops, red streaking originates from the wound, or blister formation begins near the wound.
- Avoid the shark's favored hunting grounds. Sharks frequent drop-offs from shallow to deep water, troughs between submerged sand bars, and deep channels.
- Avoid the water if bleeding. Menstrual blood has not been shown to increase the risk of shark attack, but a shark in the vicinity can likely sense the blood.
- Avoid wearing or carrying shiny objects, such as jewelry or brightly contrasting colors.
- Spear fishing, fishing, and chumming the water will likely attract sharks.
- Erratic swimming or splashing at the surface may cause a shark to mistake a person for its natural prey.
- Beware especially of any shark greater than 2 meters, or about 6 feet, in length.
- Agitated swimming movements by a shark, particularly if accompanied by a raised snout, lowered pectoral fins, and hump-backed posture, may indicate aggressiveness.
- Avoid swimming at dawn, dusk, and nighttime hours when many sharks actively feed.
- Swim in a group because sharks are more likely to attack if a person is isolated and alone.