SATURDAY, Jan. 10, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Human and animal bites to the hand require medical attention to prevent potential complications such as infection, permanent disability or even amputation, according to a new review of studies on the subject.
Intentional or accidental bites -- such as during sports or play -- to the hand are responsible for as many as 330,000 emergency department visits in the United States each year, the researchers found.
Both human and animal saliva have hundreds of species of bacteria that can cause infection, the review authors said.
The review appears in the January issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.
"Although many people may be reluctant to immediately go to a doctor, all bites to the hand should receive medical care," lead author and orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Stephen Kennedy, from the University of Washington in Seattle, said in a journal news release.
"And, while routine antibiotics are not necessarily recommended for other bite wounds, they are recommended for a bite to the hand to reduce the risk of infection and disability," he added.
Thirty to 50 percent of cat bites are complicated by infections. Infections from a cat bite can start as soon as three hours after the injury. The infection rate for dog bites is less than half the rate for cat bites, according to the researchers. However, dog bites can cause significant damage to hand and finger ligaments, tendons and bones, they noted.
Kennedy and his colleagues found that more than half of Americans will be bitten by an animal in their lifetime. Bites from domestic animals (mostly dogs) account for more than 90 percent of bites. Each year in the United States, about 4.5 million people are bitten by "man's best friend," according to the review.
Health care costs for dog and cat bites in the United States total more than $850 million a year, the researchers found.
So, what should you do if you've been bitten? After a bite to the hand, check carefully for any puncture wounds. If there is a puncture wound of any size, wash it with soap and water as soon as possible and seek medical care. Redness, increasing pain or red streaking up the hand or arm along a tendon are signs of significant infection that requires immediate medical attention.
Prompt treatment -- ideally within 24 hours of a bite -- can prevent serious injury or infection. Anyone with a hand bite should be given antibiotics, which can lower the risk of infection from 28 percent to 2 percent, the researchers said.
The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about dog and cat bites.