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Hand Infections Caused By Bites

By David R. Steinberg, MD, Associate Professor, Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, and Director, Hand and Upper Extremity Fellowship, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania

The most common cause is injury to the knuckles by the teeth from punching someone in the mouth. Animal bites are also common causes. Wound contamination by a number of types of bacteria can result from human and animal bites. All bite injuries are potentially dangerous and can cause severe infections or serious complications (such as tendon, bone or joint infections).

Infected bites cause pain, swelling, and tenderness.

Doctors base the diagnosis on an examination. However, if the skin is broken, an x-ray is often done to detect a fracture, tooth, or other foreign objects, which can cause or worsen infection. The injured area should be cleaned surgically, with the wound left open to drain. In infection is not severe, people are given antibiotics taken by mouth to prevent joint infection (infectious arthritis), which can otherwise lead to permanent destruction of the knuckle joints. Which antibiotic is effective depends on which bacteria are common in the person’s community. People wear a hand dressing and elevate the hand as much and as often as possible, ideally above the head with the hand supported by a cushioned object. If infection is severe, the person is admitted to the hospital and given antibiotics by vein.

Did You Know...

  • The most important measure for preventing infection of a bite wound is to thoroughly clean and drain the wound as soon as possible.

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