A new study by doctors in Ireland has found that men are 12 times more likely than women to be bitten by another person and need surgery.
The doctors also say human bite wounds need prompt treatment as the longer treatment is delayed the greater the risk the wound will become infected.
A review of human bite injury cases was carried out by doctors at the plastic surgery unit at St. James Hospital in Dublin.
Author Dr. Patricia A. Eadie and her colleagues found many victims also failed to get the recommended follow-up treatment, raising their risk of permanent scarring and functional damage.
Dr. Eadie and her team say late-night 'alcohol-fueled aggression' is the most common cause of such injuries.
The doctors recommend bite wounds be treated like an infected surgical wound, by cleansing the area, removing infected tissue, and closing the wound as quickly as possible.
The researchers reviewed the cases of all patients who had been referred to their plastic surgery unit for treatment of human bite injuries from 2003 to 2005 in an attempt to gain a better understanding of the nature of such wounds and their management.
During the study period, the researchers treated 92 patients with 96 human bite wounds and found in 86 percent of the cases, the victim had been drinking and 12% had used illicit drugs; 70 percent of the bites occurred during the weekend or on a public holiday.
Bites to the face were most common and accounted for 70 percent of the injuries, with the ear being the site most commonly affected; 18 patients developed infections, and those who waited to go to the hospital for 12 hours or longer after the injury occurred were at the highest risk of infection.
The researchers found that upper limb injuries were more likely to become infected than injuries to other parts of the body.
Eadie and her colleagues also found that after the initial treatment, 47 percent of the patients failed to return for follow-up visits, and just 14 percent underwent surgery to reconstruct the affected area, or planned to do so.
Human bite wounds are a common reason for referral for plastic surgery and there are two main types:- the occlusive bite with or without tissue loss which occurs when teeth close on the skin and have been seen in several high profile contact sporting events, and the 'fight bite' when flesh on a closed fist is pierced by a tooth.
The team say bite wounds are a challenge to any emergency department because of the many issues involved in their management and the failure to deal with any of them can result in a potentially devastating complication involving function, infection or appearance.
The study is published in the journal Emergency Medicine, July 1, 2007.