Clean the wound
You should clean the wound no matter how small the cut to the skin.
There are many bacteria (germs) in human mouths. Cleaning will reduce the chance of infection. If the wound is small, you can clean it yourself. Just use ordinary tap water. (There is concern that antiseptics may damage skin tissue and delay healing.) Wounds that are large, deep, or dirty are best cleaned by a nurse or doctor. If the wound is bleeding heavily, a clean dressing or sterile pad should be used to apply pressure until you can get medical help. After cleaning, cover the wound with a sterile, non-sticky dressing.
Consider going to hospital or seeing a doctor
If part of the wound has dead or damaged skin then it may need to be trimmed or removed. This is because dead skin is ideal for infection to develop. Gaping wounds may need to be stitched, glued, or pulled together with sticky tape. Open cuts to the face or head will usually be closed as soon as possible. For cuts to other parts of the body, sometimes a doctor may advise to wait for a few days before closing the wound, particularly if the wound is more than six hours old. This is to make sure the wound is not infected before closing it up.
A short course of antibiotics may be prescribed to prevent infection developing in wounds which are large or deep. Antibiotics may also be prescribed for small bite wounds if:
- The bite wound is on the face, hand or foot.
- Your resistance to infection is low. For example, if you: are on chemotherapy; have no working spleen; have diabetes; have an immune system problem such as AIDS, etc.
- You have an artificial heart valve (and sometimes, if you have an artificial joint).
Are you up to date with your tetanus immunisations? If not, you may need a booster dose.
HIV, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C
If you are bitten by a person who has one of these viral infections, there is a small risk that the infection can pass on to you. See your doctor immediately if this is a concern.
- To protect against HIV, you can be given medication which counters the HIV virus.
- To protect against hepatitis B, you can be given immunoglobulin (an antiserum) and be immunised against hepatitis B.
- Currently there is no treatment to prevent hepatitis C infection from developing.
What to look out for after a bite
The most common complication following a bite is a bacterial infection of the wound. See a doctor if the skin surrounding a wound becomes more tender, painful, swollen, or inflamed over the few days following the bite.
Rarely, some bacteria can get into the bloodstream through a wound and cause a serious infection in the body. See a doctor if you become generally unwell with fever (high temperature), shivers, or other worrying symptoms within a week or so after a bite.
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