Human Bites

Human bites can occur directly or indirectly. Biting among young children is the most common type of bite. But you can also get an indirect injury if your fist makes contact with another person’s mouth. Although most human bites aren’t serious, you should have any bite that breaks the surface of your skin looked at due to the risk of infection.


What is a human bite?

A human bite occurs when a human’s teeth make contact with another human’s skin. There are two distinct types of human bites: occlusion bites and clenched/closed fist bites.

Occlusion bites

Occlusion bites occur directly. These are the most common type of bite. They occur when someone else’s teeth sink into your skin with enough force to break through the surface. For example, when a child bites another child. Biting is very common among young children. Often, children bite to express negative feelings such as anger. Occlusion bites occur most often among young children.

Clenched or closed fist bites

Clenched or closed fist bites occur indirectly. They happen when someone’s fist makes contact with another person’s teeth, puncturing their hand in the process. This type of bite can cause an indirect injury to your knuckle joint (metacarpophalangeal joint). You can develop an infection, tendonitis and joint stiffness. Closed fist bites occur most often during fist fights.

Most human bites aren’t serious. Human teeth aren’t very sharp. Therefore, they usually only cause bruising and possibly a shallow tear (laceration). But you should seek medical attention if a bite breaks your skin, due to the risk of infection.

Are human bites dangerous?

Human bite wounds can occasionally be more dangerous than you’d expect. Germs in the saliva of human mouths can increase your risk of infection. A wound may appear minor, but a bacterial infection can lead to more severe infections and complications.

How common is this condition?

Healthcare providers treat about 250,000 human bites each year. Among bitten children, 10% develop an infection resulting from bacteria found in human saliva. However, human bites account for only 3% of the total bites seen in emergency departments.


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Symptoms and Causes

What are the symptoms of a human bite?

You’ll likely experience symptoms at the site of your injury, including:

  • Pain.
  • Tenderness.
  • Bleeding.
  • Swelling.

If an infection develops in the bite wound, you may have:

  • Intense pain and swelling.
  • Pus around your wound.
  • Redness around your wound.
  • Skin that feels warm to the touch.
  • Fever, chills or a general sense of feeling unwell.

A bite on your finger can sometimes damage tendons and/or nerves. Signs include:

  • Loss of feeling in your fingertip.
  • Trouble bending or fully straightening your finger.

Who’s at a higher risk of infection following a human bite?

Your overall health and bite location are factors. You’re more likely to get an infection following a bite if you:

Are there complications from human bites?

Yes. Untreated human bite wounds can lead to infection and other complications. The risk of infection depends on several factors, including:

  • The type of wound and its location.
  • Your general health condition.
  • How much time passes between the moment of injury and treatment.

There can be complications if you don’t get to the emergency room quickly enough because the infection can spread over time. Human bite wounds on your hands, arms, nose and ear cartilage tend to pose more complications than those on other parts of your body. Even a seemingly minor injury can damage your underlying joints, tendons or bones, or lead to a serious infection.

These infections might cause permanent damage to the affected part of your body unless you treat them quickly. For example, a closed fist bite can cause damage to the metacarpophalangeal joint, sometimes leading to arthritis. In a worst-case scenario, amputation is possible. With occlusion bites, you may be at risk of developing:

There have been some reports of human bites transmitting HIV/AIDs, hepatitis B and tetanus, though these are extremely rare and unlikely.

Can you die from a human bite?

It’s unlikely that a human bite will be fatal, especially if you seek proper medical care. However, human bite wounds can be dangerous, largely due to the many types of bacteria transmitted through human saliva. Complications from a human bite can be very serious, including severe infection and permanently damaged bones, joints and/or tendons.


Diagnosis and Tests

How is a human bite diagnosed?

A healthcare provider will ask you about your medical history, including your history of immunizations, allergies and medications. Then they’ll ask you about the bite itself, including how and when it happened and who bit you, along with other important details that’ll help them determine how to treat your wound.

Management and Treatment

How do you treat a bite from a human?

If a human bites you, first press a dry cloth firmly onto your wound to stop the bleeding (if it’s bleeding heavily). Then, gently clean out the wound with mild soap and warm water. If you have access to a syringe, you should use it to wash the wound, as the pressure will help reduce the level of bacteria. You need to be very careful at this stage not to further damage the wound or the surrounding tissue.

If needed, remove any loose, dead skin or foreign objects from your wound (unless you’re worried that you’ll injure yourself further). Then, gently pat your wound dry, and apply an antibacterial ointment to help reduce your chances of infection. Cover it with a clean bandage. If the bite doesn’t break your skin, you don’t necessarily need to seek medical treatment. Keep an eye on signs of infection, but the wound should heal on its own.


When should you seek medical treatment for a human bite?

If a human bites you, especially on your hands, face, neck or another sensitive area, you should go to a healthcare provider for an evaluation because of the high risk of infection. You should see your healthcare provider within 24 hours for any bite that breaks your skin.

In addition, call your provider or go to the nearest emergency room if:

  • You can’t get the bleeding to stop after a few minutes.
  • You noticed redness, swelling or pus draining from your wound.
  • You see red streaks spreading out from your wound.
  • The bite is large or deep.
  • You see exposed bone or muscle.
  • You think your wound might need stitches.
  • You haven’t had or aren’t sure if you’ve had a tetanus shot in the last five years.

How will a healthcare provider treat a human bite?

After a healthcare provider evaluates your wound, there are a few steps you can expect, including:

  • Cleaning: A healthcare provider will clean out and disinfect your wound again before assessing it for any potential nerve, ligament, tendon and/or bone damage.
  • Testing: The provider may take tissue cultures from the site of your wound to analyze for infectious organisms. If they find symptoms of joint or tendon damage, or if the wound appears to be infected, the provider may order a blood test or imaging tests, such as X-rays.
  • Treatment plan: The provider will determine which, if any, medications are best for your particular situation. For deeper wounds, they may close it up with nonabsorbable stitches. In more severe cases, they may remove all the dead tissue (debridement), followed by a skin graft to close your wound. You may need surgery if there’s a fracture, joint/tendon damage or a severe infection.

If you’re not up to date on your vaccinations, a tetanus shot may be necessary. Any bites that puncture the skin deeper than 1 centimeter (cm) require an immediate tetanus shot.

You’ll need to follow up with your provider after 24 to 72 hours, and even sooner if you begin noticing any signs of infection.

What medications are used to treat human bites?

A healthcare provider may prescribe medication for you if needed. They may recommend a regimen of antibiotics for:

  • Soft tissue infections (seven to 10 days).
  • Severe infections (10 to 14 days).
  • Severe bone/joint infections (four to six weeks).

Your provider may recommend a type of antibiotic called Amoxicillin (Augmentin®), which contains penicillin. If you’re allergic to penicillin, the provider will likely prescribe one of the following:


Can human bites be prevented?

You can prevent bites by teaching your child not to bite others. You can also prevent bites by not engaging in fights.

Outlook / Prognosis

What can I expect if I have a human bite?

The recovery time from a human bite varies greatly depending on a few different factors:

  • The type, location and severity of the bite.
  • The resulting damage and potential infections.
  • Any underlying medication conditions.

Even after you’re initially treated, you should closely monitor the wound area to watch for signs of infection. Severe bites may have lasting effects, ranging from infections to scarring. Remember, it’s important to see your healthcare provider if you’re dealing with a human bite to minimize any complications.

Additional Common Questions

What is the bite force of a human?

Compared with other mammals (like dogs and bears), humans don’t have the strongest bite. Scientists measure the amount of pressure exerted by an animal's bite in pounds per square inch (psi). The human bite force is 162 psi. The bite force of some dogs can reach 250 psi, while some bears have a bite force of over 1,000 psi.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Human bites most often occur among children, but adults need to be cautious, as well. While most human bites aren’t serious, you should have any bite that breaks the surface of your skin checked out. Human saliva can be full of bacteria that can cause an infection. Make sure to seek medical treatment to prevent infection and any further complications.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 03/10/2023.

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