Human Bites are Hazardous Too

Forget Fido, Human Bite Wounds Also Require Prompt Treatment

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June 25, 2003 - When a dog bites a man, there's no question about the proper medical treatment, but when a human bites another human many doctors may not know where to begin. Mike Tyson articles aside, researchers say there's been few studies about how to effectively treat human bites, even though they account for up to 23% of all bite wounds.

In a new study, researchers studied 40 human bite cases treated over the last 10 years at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, and found prompt treatment with antibiotics is needed to reduce the risk of serious infection.

The findings appear in the June issue of Otolaryngology - Head and Surgery.

Researchers say 15%-20% of human bites are in the head and neck, and other common sites include the hands, arms, and shoulders in men and the breasts, genitalia, legs and arms in women. Most bites occur during fights, but sports accidents and sexual activity are other frequent causes of human bite wounds.

Most bite wounds are minor and do not require medical attention, but researchers say many victims with severe wounds are often too embarrassed or fearful of legal ramifications to seek medical treatment.

Researcher Karen L. Stierman, MD, of the University of Texas Medical Branch, and colleagues say that treatment for human bite wounds has been controversial for many years, and early reports from the 1920s and 1930s describe severe infections after human bites.

In their study, they found that the average age of the human bite victims was 29 years old and 93% of them of male (more than half of the bite patients were inmates at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice at the time of the injury).

The most common type of human bite wound was avulsion, or a tearing away of the skin, and 67% of all bite wounds were in the head and neck region.

Ten out of the 40 wounds requiring medical or surgical treatment resulted in wound infection, and failure to receive at least 48 hours of intravenous antibiotics increased the risk of infection. Most of the victims sought medical attention within five hours of the injury, but three of the four immediately-infected patients had a significant delay before treatment.

Researchers say the study shows the human bite wounds should be evaluated and treated promptly to reduce the risk of infection.

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SOURCES: Otolaryngology - Head and Surgery, June 2003. News release, American Academy of Otolaryngology -- Head and Neck Surgery.
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