Bite wounds are common: In the U.S., half of us will be bitten by an animal or human at least once. Most of those bites will come from household pets.
There are about 5 million dog bites a year in the U.S. Cats are the second most common biters, but their bites pose a higher risk of infection because they can cause deep punctures and lacerations. A dog bite, on the other hand, typically causes a crushing-type wound because of their rounded teeth and strong jaws. Human bites -- from children and adults -- usually cause bruising and a shallow tear.
Bites that break the skin may cause a variety of bacterial or viral deep-tissue infections -- including rabies, in rare instances. Infections arise from tiny organisms in the mouth of the biter and on the victim’s skin.
It’s important to care for a bite wound or injury quickly. Although you may be able to treat a superficial bite at home, you should call your doctor for advice. Deeper bites, lacerations of the skin, and cat bites often require medical care. Bites on the hand are also of particular concern because there is a higher risk of infection. Close attention to caring for the wound is one of the most important steps in treating a bite.
Here’s what to do when you, your child, or another person is bitten.
First Aid for Fresh Bite Wound
If there is minor bleeding, the skin is barely broken, and there is no risk of rabies:
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water before and after treating the wound.
- Wash the area with mild soap and running water to reduce the risk of infection. Pat dry.
- Apply antibiotic ointment and cover with a clean bandage or sterile dressing.
- To reduce swelling, apply an ice pack wrapped in a towel or a cold compress (cloth soaked in cold water) to the bruise for 5-10 minutes.
- Call your doctor to see if you need to have the bite examined. Always seek medical attention when a child has been bitten in the head.