Animal and human bites

Serious animal and human bites can get infected if they're not checked and treated quickly. Always seek medical advice if you've been bitten by an animal or person and the bite has broken the skin. People and animals have bacteria in their mouths, which can cause an infection.

What to do if you've been bitten

If you've been bitten by an animal or another person:

  • clean the wound immediately by running warm tap water over it for a couple of minutes even if the skin doesn't appear to be broken
  • remove any objects from the bite, such as hair or dirt
  • encourage the wound to bleed slightly by gently squeezing it, unless it's already bleeding freely
  • if the wound is bleeding heavily, put a clean pad or sterile dressing on it and apply pressure
  • dry the wound and cover it with a clean dressing or plaster
  • take painkillers if you're in pain, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen – children under 16 years old shouldn't take aspirin
  • seek medical advice, unless the wound is very minor

Bites that sever a body part

If the bite has severed a body part like a finger or ear you should:

  • wash it with tap water
  • wrap it in clean tissue
  • store it in a plastic bag surrounded by ice so it can be transported to hospital

It may be possible to surgically reattach the body part later on.

When to seek medical help

If the bite has broken the skin, you should seek immediate medical attention after cleaning the wound. Don't delay seeking help until symptoms of infection appear (see below).

Minor bites can be treated by your GP, or at a minor injuries unit. For very severe bites, visit an emergency department.

The healthcare professional treating you may:

  • clean the wound and remove any damaged tissue
  • prescribe a course of antibiotics to prevent infection
  • recommend specific treatment to prevent infections such as tetanus if you're felt to be at risk
  • close the wound with stitches if there is a low risk of infection– high-risk wounds will usually be left open as this means they're easier to keep clean
  • arrange blood tests to check for infection, or an X-ray to check for any damage to your bones and see if there's anything stuck in your wound
  • refer you for an assessment by a specialist if the bite penetrated a joint, or there's severe damage, such as damage to bones or nerves – surgery may be needed in these cases
  • offer you treatment to stop you becoming infected if you’ve been bitten by a person with hepatitis or HIV and the bite is contaminated with blood

When you return home, watch out for signs of a possible infection.

Signs a bite may be infected

If a bite breaks the skin it can cause infection. These infections are rarely serious if treated quickly, but can occasionally spread to the blood or other parts of the body.

Serious infections such as tetanus and rabies are rare in Northern Ireland. However, it's important to get serious bites looked at as treatment to prevent these infections may be recommended.

Symptoms that suggest a wound has become infected include:

  • redness and swelling around the wound
  • the wound feels warm and increasingly painful
  • liquid or pus leaks from the wound
  • a fever of 38C (100.4F) or above
  • sweats and chills
  • swollen glands under the chin or in the neck, armpits or groin
  • red streaks extending along the skin from the wound

Get medical help as soon as possible if you think your wound is infected.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information, read terms and conditions.

This page was published January 2018

This page is due for review May 2019

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