Animal bites are a fairly common and expensive injury in the United States, affecting about 1.5 per cent of the population and costing over $850 million annually to treat. Dog bites are most common, followed by cats, and humans. Because of the complexity of anatomical structures in our hands and because of the high risk of infection associated with bites, a seemingly small bite can quickly become a big deal.
Bite wounds are very prone to infection due to the high amount of bacteria present in mouths. Each mammal presents a different prevalent strain of bacteria, each which can cause different problems. The type of wound caused by a bite also comes in to play. For instance, a bite from a German Shepard may cause more trauma, but a cat bite can easily puncture to the bone, which could lead to easier spread of infection. Human bites are notorious for having a high rate of infection from all of the bacteria present in the human mouth.
Signs of infection can present up to 12 hours after a bite and include a reddening and warming of the skin, swelling, increasing pain and fever. Evaluation should include personal history, lab tests for infection, x-rays, and a thorough assessment of the wound. Treatment involves immediate antibiotics and a thorough wound cleansing to prevent further damage by infection. The amount of time between the bite and seeking treatment matters especially with hand injuries and the presence of infection.