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Care for a Bite Wound

Animal or human bite wounds need thorough cleaning to reduce the risk of infection and scarring and to promote healing. Try to stop the bleeding before cleaning the wound. Mild to moderate bleeding during the cleaning usually occurs. After cleaning, stop the bleeding by reapplying direct pressure and by elevating the wound. If the bleeding continues, see how to stop bleeding .

A visit to a health professional is needed if you are unable to clean the wound adequately because it:

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  • Covers a large area.
  • Has injured many layers of tissue, creating a deep wound.
  • Is too painful to clean.
  • Has dirt, debris, or a foreign object you cannot remove.

Before cleaning a bite wound

  • Wash your hands well with soap and water, if available.
  • Wear medical gloves, if available. Use your bare hands to clean the wound only as a last resort.
  • Let the person clean his or her own wound, if possible.

Cleaning a bite wound

If you are not going to see your health professional immediately, rinse the wound for at least 5 to 10 minutes.

  • Use a large amount of water under moderate pressure (with the faucet at least halfway open). Washing the wound to remove as much dirt, debris, and bacteria as possible reduces the risk for infection.
  • If you have a water sprayer in your kitchen sink, try using the sprayer to wash the wound. This usually removes most of the dirt and other objects from the wound without damaging the surrounding tissue. Avoid getting any spray from the wound into your eyes.

Large, deep, or very dirty bite wounds

  • Large, deep, or very dirty bite wounds may need to be thoroughly cleaned by a health professional and evaluated for stitches or antibiotic treatment. If you think your wound may need closure by a health professional, see Are Stitches, Staples, or Skin Adhesives Necessary for a Bite?
  • If you are going to see a health professional immediately, the wound can be cleaned and treated at the medical facility.

Minor bite wounds

Minor bite wounds can be cleaned at home.

  • For mild bleeding, clean the wound first and then stop the bleeding.
  • Use clean tweezers to remove any pieces of dirt or other debris from the wound. Do not push the tweezers deeply into the wound.
  • Wash the wound with a large amount of water to remove all the dirt, debris, and bacteria from the wound. Cool water and mild soap, such as Ivory dishwashing soap, are the best. (Note: If you are cleaning a wound near the eye, do not get soap products in the eye.)
    • Hold the wound under cool, running tap water; the more water, the better.
    • Scrub gently with water, soap, and a washcloth. (Moderate scrubbing may be needed if the wound is very dirty.) Hard scrubbing may actually cause more damage to the tissue and increase the chance of infection. Scrubbing the wound will probably hurt and may increase bleeding, but it is necessary to clean the wound thoroughly.
    • If you have a water sprayer in your kitchen sink, try using the sprayer to wash the wound. This usually removes most of the dirt and other objects from the wound. Avoid getting any spray from the wound into your eyes.
  • If some dirt or other debris remains in the wound, repeat the cleaning process.
    • Try to remove the dirt or debris with clean tweezers.
    • Scrub the wound again with a washcloth.
  • If the wound starts to bleed, apply steady, direct pressure to stop the bleeding.
By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer David Messenger, MD
Last Revised June 10, 2010

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: June 10, 2010
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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