Bites to the hand are very common and can cause pain and other problems, especially when they become infected. Early and proper treatment is the key to prevent problems from a bite.
Millions of animal bites occur in the United States each year. Dogs cause most animal bites. Other biting animals include cats, rodents, rabbits, ferrets, farm animals, monkeys and reptiles.
The major concern of all animal bites is infection. When an animal bites, bacteria from its mouth can enter the wound and begin growing. An infection can cause pain, tissue damage, or even life-threatening problems. The seriousness of a bite depends on the location, type of animal and whether a foreign object is stuck in the wound.
Infections occur more frequently in cat bites because cats have sharp, pointed teeth that cause deep wounds. The skin usually closes quickly over the bite, trapping bacteria (see Figure 1). However, quick and proper treatment often can prevent or minimize the risk of infection.
Rabies is a rare but a potentially fatal infection that may result from an animal bite. In the United States, wild animals such as bats, skunks, raccoons and foxes are most likely to spread rabies. Bites from these animals should be reported to your public health department.
Human bite wounds contain a lot of bacteria and carry a high risk of infection. Many times, these bites are the result of a fist fight. These infections can progress quickly and result in serious problems, so early treatment is necessary (see Figure 2).