Feature Article

Human and animal bites: managing and preventing infection




Animal bites are an increasing public health problem, with half the Australian population expected to experience a significant animal bite at some time in their life. Infections from bites can range from the self-limiting to the life-threatening, with characteristics often dependent on the specific animal inflicting the bite.

Key Points

  • The nature of the bite, the species of the biting animal and the conditions of the host must all be considered when managing patients with bite injuries.
  • Although some overlap exists, the profile of the infection transmitted differs depending on the animal inflicting the bite.
  • Human bites result in greater infection and complication rates than other animal bites and are typically polymicrobial.
  • Dogs are responsible for most mammalian bites, with almost 20% of these bites becoming infected, followed by cats, with up to 80% of cat bites becoming infected.
  • Immediate management of bites includes assessment, surgery, antibiotic therapy and tetanus toxoid vaccination.
  • GPs have an important role in preventing bite wounds, and follow up of patients treated for bite wounds represents an important opportunity to educate, and offer vaccinations to, those at risk of further bites.

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