Serious animal and human bites can get infected if they're not checked and treated quickly.
Always seek medical advice if you have been bitten by an animal or person and the bite has broken the skin. As although serious infections are rare it can occassinally spread into the blood (Sepsis)
Serious infections such as tetanus
are extremely rare in the UK, but it's important to get serious bites looked at as treatment to prevent these infections may be recommended.
What to do if you have been bitten
If you have been bitten by an animal or another person:
- clean the wound immediately by running warm tap water over it for a couple of minutes – it's a good idea to do this even if the skin does not appear to be broken
- remove any objects from the bite, such as teeth, 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 over 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 should not take aspirin
- seek medical advice, unless the wound is very minor
If the bite has severed a body part like a finger or ear, wash it with tap water, wrap it in clean tissue, and 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 advice
If the bite has broken the skin, you should seek immediate medical attention after cleaning the wound.
Do not delay seeking help until symptoms of infection appear.
Minor bites can be treated at your GP surgery, or by staff at your local walk-in centre or minor injuries unit .
For particularly severe bites, visit Warwick or Coventry A&E.
When you return home, watch out for signs of a possible infection.
Signs a bite may be infected
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.
When do bites happen?
Although you may be more worried about bites from wild and stray animals, any animal has the potential to bite.
Many bites are actually caused by a person's own pet or an animal belonging to a friend or neighbour.
Animals can act unpredictably and bites are not always provoked. But an animal is more likely to bite if it's been disturbed, feels threatened or gets overexcited.
Most human bites occur when one person punches another person in the mouth.
They can also happen during contact sports, vigorous sex, domestic violence or sexual assault , and fits (seizures).
How to avoid animal bites
Most animal bites are caused by dogs. The advice below may help reduce the chances of being bitten:
- never leave a young child unsupervised with a dog – regardless of what type of dog it is and its previous behaviour
- treat dogs with respect – do not approach them suddenly, run around screaming in their presence, or interrupt them when they're eating or sleeping
- avoid stroking or petting unfamiliar dogs – when greeting a dog for the first time, let it sniff you before petting it
It's also a good idea to avoid contact with any wild or stray animals, particularly while travelling abroad, as they can be aggressive and there's a chance they could carry serious infections, such as rabies.
[Last reviewed 2019-01-11]