Most common cause behind hand injuries may be bites

January 7, 2015

Topic: orthopaedic fracture

A recent literature review conducted by the Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons found that one of the biggest culprits behind hand injuries are human or animal bites.

A recent literature review conducted by the Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons found that some of the biggest culprits behind hand injuries are human or animal bites.

The review found that these bites cause people to travel to the emergency room approximately 330,000 times a year. The document also notes the dangers of these bites, how to properly treat them and scenarios involving major surgery such as an amputation.

The prevalence of bites
More than 50 percent of all Americans will deal with some form of bite in their lives, the source noted. About 90 percent of these bites will come from animals, most notably dogs. Healthcare costs associated with bites are high - an estimated $850 million each year. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that in 2012, more than 27,000 people underwent reconstructive surgery for a dog bite. 

Human bites are much less common than animal bites. However, they can administer a significant amount of damage. Approximately 3 percent of all bites to the hands are caused by humans. Some of the common causes may occur during a fight and were caused by punching, or could happen during sports or other forms of physical activity. Human bites can be very infectious, as saliva, which can transfer during a hard bite, can carry up to 600 different types of bacteria.

Lead study author Stephen Kennedy, M.D., noted that many patients may be hesitant to go to a physician's office for a bite, but should go to receive proper medical care. Kennedy also stated that a prescription for antibiotics is normally unnecessary for bites on other parts of the body, but is always needed for bites on the hands. If an infection develops, people may be vulnerable to a significant disability.

People can also have their bite become infected because of a dog or other type of animal. Research has shown that adult dogs can bite down with a force of more than 300 pounds, as their jaws and teeth are used to hold, tear, bite and crush their food or prey. The magnitude of this bite can have a detrimental effect on bones and tendons in the hands, possibly causing several orthopaedic fractures. Cats can also cause serious damage to the hands, as their teeth are thin and very sharp, but it may not be as significant as a dog. However, cat bites have a greater likelihood of becoming infected, with approximately 50 percent of bites developing an infection each year, the review noted.

How to deal with a bite
Many people may be unsure of what to do when they are bitten, regardless of whether it was by a human or a dog. People should first look at the bite to determine if there is a puncture wound. If so, the site should be cleaned out immediately with warm water and soap. If the wound is significant, it should be treated by a physician right away. People should take note of signs of redness, swelling or pain, as these could be signs of an infection. For severe bites, orthopaedic hand physicians may inspect the wound and determine the amount of dead tissue, damage to joints and nerves, and whether it is an open fracture or not. Open fractures are when a bone is broken and may be exposed or visible, causing a high susceptibility to infection.

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