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Is it an emergency? Bites

A quick guide.

Human and animal bites that break the skin can become infected or transmit illnesses such as rabies.

The American College of Emergency Physicians offers the following advice for dealing with bites:

  • If a bite breaks the skin, wash the area thoroughly with soap and water, put on an antibiotic cream, and cover the wound with a bandage.
  • If you haven't had a tetanus shot in the past 10 years, you should get one within 72 hours of being bitten.
  • For deep puncture wounds, or skin that is badly torn and bleeding, apply pressure to stop the bleeding and seek medical attention right away.
  • See a doctor right away if you have been bitten and develop a fever or notice signs of infection, such as swelling, redness, pain, a bad smell or fluid draining from the wound.
  • If you are bitten by an animal that is acting strangely or attacks unprovoked, seek medical attention right away—especially if the animal is a bat, skunk, raccoon or fox. Strange behavior and unprovoked attacks could be signs of rabies. Rabies is rare in dogs, cats, rodents and animals that eat only plants.

Reviewed 9/16/2022

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