That bite to the hand could be more serious than you think
A bite to the hand could have serious health consequences if ignored.
A recent study published in the journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons outlines potential complications from animal and human bites to the hand, focusing on the importance of early assessment and treatment to avoid infection, permanent disability or even amputation.
“Unlike bites to other parts of the body, bites to the hand have a high incidence of infection,” says Dr. Jeffrey Kazaglis, orthopedic surgeon on staff at Elgin-based Advocate Sherman Hospital. “You may not think it’s serious, but you should always seek medical attention after a bite to the hand.”
Hand injuries caused by human and animal bites lead to as many as 330,000 emergency department visits in the U.S. each year, data shows. Human bites to the hand account for about 3 percent of all hand bit injuries, but more than half of all Americans will sustain an animal bite in their lifetime.
Human bites to the hand most commonly occur during physical altercations, or accidentally during physical activity or sports. Those bites that penetrate the skin can transmit infection through saliva, which can contain more than 600 types of bacteria.
“Human bites to the hand, although more rare, can be much more dangerous,” Dr. Kazaglis says. “Your grandmother was right when she told you, ‘people’s mouths are dirtier than dogs.’”
Bites from pets – mainly dogs – account for more than 90 percent of bites, data shows. Between 30 and 50 percent of cat bites end with infection. Infections from a dog bite typically occur at less than half the rate of cat bites.
“Cat bites differ from dog bites because their teeth differ in structure,” says Dr. Kazaglis. “Cats often cause puncture-type wounds, where dogs are bigger and generally tear flesh when they bite.”
Signs of infection include redness, swelling, progressive pain and fever. If those symptoms progress, or red streaking can be found running up the hand or arm, that is a sign of significant infection.
If a bite to the hand occurs, people should inspect the area for any puncture wounds, and if there is a wound of any size, wash it immediately with soap and water and seek medical attention within 24 hours.
Antibiotic treatment can lower the infection rate from an average of 28 percent to 2 percent.
About the Author
health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Aurora Health sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.