Animal, Human, and Insect Bites

A wide variety of insects and other critters, including humans, cause bites and stings that may be mild to moderate, uncomfortable to life threatening. It's important to know how to act, how to treat, and when to seek help for any of these potential injuries.

Scorpion Bites

Scorpions are lobster-like arthropods in the arachnid class (the same class as spiders), with a curling stinger at the end of their tail, and are usually found in desert areas of the Southwest and Mexico. Scorpion stings are not likely to be fatal and are easy to treat, but are more dangerous to children and the elderly. Symptoms include immediate pain or burning, minor swelling, sensitivity to touch, and a numb or tingling sensation.

The steps below should be followed for treating scorpion bites:

  • Wash the area with soap and water.

  • Use a cold pack on the area for ten minutes, repeating as necessary at ten-minute intervals.

  • Call the Poison Control Center for any severe symptoms.

Tick Bites

People who live near wooded and grassy areas or who spend recreation time in these locations are most susceptible to tick bites. These tiny arachnids feed on the blood of mammals such as deer, rodents, and rabbits and are able to carry disease from animal to human.

First aid for tick bites includes removing the tick immediately to avoid the bite reactions and reduce any possibility of developing one of the tick-borne infectious diseases such as Lyme disease, Colorado tick fever, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

To remove a tick:

  • Use a pair of flat or curved forceps or tweezers and take hold of the head of the tick as close to the skin as possible, and gently remove it without squeezing the tick.

  • Clean the area with soap and water and apply antihistamine or 1% hyrdrocortisone cream.

Get medical attention if the tick is buried too deep and you cannot remove it, you are in an area where Lyme disease is a risk, you develop fever and flu-like symptoms, or you experience muscle weakness, paralysis, or the bull's-eye rash characteristic of Lyme disease.


Don't put petroleum jelly, alcohol, or ammonia on ticks — they will make ticks bury deeper. If you live in a high-risk area and get a tick bite, always call your doctor for advice as you may need to get additional medical care including antibiotics.

Animal Bites

Cats and dogs cause most animal bites. Cat bites can cause very deep puncture wounds and present a serious risk of infection because punctures cause bacteria to be forced deep into the skin and tissues. Dog bites also carry a risk of infection and increased incidence of damage to affected tissues. These bites usually produce marks that have broken the skin and sometimes bleeding, depending upon the severity and location of the bites. Redness and swelling typically occur within twenty-four to forty-eight hours.


Wild animals that gain access to your home such as raccoons, stray pets, rats, and bats pose a much more serious risk, as they are more likely to carry and transmit rabies and other viruses. These types of bites require immediate medical attention.

For animal bites, check with a veterinarian for related health risks and have the wounds looked at by a physician. Your doctor may want to administer a tetanus shot and in some cases antibiotics. Keep the pet safe and secured in your custody until a doctor has evaluated the bite and the proper health authorities have ruled out any transmittable diseases.

For severe bites or when the injured person loses consciousness, check for airway, breathing, and circulation and begin CPR (see Chapter 2), call 911, and manage for shock until help arrives. For minor bites, take the following steps:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water and wash the bite under running water for at least five minutes.

  • Clean the bite with soap and water, saline solution, or povidone-iodine.

  • Stop bleeding with direct pressure and treat the bite as outlined for cuts and lacerations.

  • For unbroken skin, apply a cold pack.

  • Raise the wounded limb above the level of the person's heart (if possible) to reduce any swelling.

  • Check the bite site daily for signs of infection such as increased swelling, redness, or discharge.

Large and deep puncture wounds require medical attention. Always seek medical help for bites involving the neck, face, and hands due to the risk of serious infection and/or scarring.


Never attempt to catch a wild animal; call animal control and the police department. If it is a pet, contact the owner to find out if it has been immunized for rabies. In the case of animal bites, the animal needs to be monitored for rabies and reported to the police.

Human Bites

Human bites can be more dangerous than animal bites because of the high levels of bacteria and viruses contained in the human mouth. Human bites also have a high risk of infection. Even in minor wounds, infections can lead to complications such as severe joint infections. In the case of human bites, avoid putting the wound in your mouth because this adds bacteria to the wound. Take the following steps for human bites:

  • Use soap and water or saline to wash the wound thoroughly if the skin around the wound is not broken — never attempt to clean a wound from a human bite that is actively bleeding.

  • Apply an antibiotic ointment to the wound, cover with a nonstick bandage, and continue to watch the area carefully.

  • Seek medical attention if there is numbness or if the fingers cannot be straightened or bent.

  • If the skin is broken and bleeding, apply direct pressure with a clean, dry cloth to stop any bleeding. Elevate the area, cover the wound with a clean or sterile dressing, and seek medical help.

  • Get medical attention within twenty-four hours of being bitten in order to prevent complications from any deep wounds.

Seek medical attention for any signs of infections including warmth around the wound, swelling, pain, pus discharge, or signs of tendon or nerve damage such as inability to bend or straighten a finger and loss of sensation over the fingertip.

Spider Bites

Of the many spiders in the United States, only black-widow spider and brown-recluse spider bites are dangerous or potentially life threatening to humans. Some species of tarantula can cause serious but not life-threatening local reactions. Identifying the type of spider that has caused the bite can often aid in the treatment and may even save the person's life.

Symptoms of black-widow spider bites can appear one to twenty-four hours after the bite and include numbness at the bite site, dizziness, sweating, skin rash, intense muscle and chest pain and muscle spasms, severe abdominal cramps, nausea and vomiting, and difficulty breathing and tightness of the chest. You may also have pain at the bite site, white blisters that sometimes form painful ulcers (craters), rash, swelling and tenderness, weakness, stomach and joint pain, and fever.


If you can catch or kill the spider without endangering yourself, do so and take it with you to the emergency department, because identifying the type of spider is vital to determining the correct treatment. However, there is no antivenom for brown-recluse or tarantula bites.

First Aid for Spider Bites

The following steps should be taken for spider bites:

  • When bitten by a suspected nonpoisonous spider, wash and treat the bite site as outlined for cuts and lacerations, cover the bite with a clean dressing, and consult a doctor if any signs of infection develop.

  • For all black-widow or brown-recluse spider bites, call 911 or go immediately to an emergency department in order to receive treatment, and in the case of black-widow bites to receive antivenom.

  • Monitor the person's ABCs (see Chapter 2) and place them in a sitting position.


Rattlesnakes, copperhead, cottonmouth (water moc-casin), coral snake, and cobras are some of the many poisonous snakes. Symptoms of a snakebite include:

  • Fang marks in the skin

  • Bleeding

  • Blurred vision

  • Warmth and burning at the sight of the bite

  • Seizures

  • Diarrhea

  • Dizziness

  • Sweating

  • Fainting

  • Fever

  • Increased thirst

  • Loss of muscle coordination

  • Weakness

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Numbness and tingling

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Severe pain at the site of the bite

  • Skin discoloration and swelling

A nonpoisonous snakebite will usually produce a horseshoe-shaped ring of tooth marks on the person's skin, producing mild pain and possibly swelling. First-aid treatment of a nonpoisonous snake bite includes:

  • Washing the bite with soap and water

  • Covering the site with a sterile bandage or dressing

If you are unsure of the date of your last tetanus shot, consult with your doctor about a booster shot.

Bites that begin to swell and change color are usually indicative of a poisonous snake. Take the following steps for a poisonous snakebite:

  • Call 911 and the Poison Control Center immediately so that antivenom can be ready when the person arrives at the emergency department.

  • Calm the person, limit movement, and keep the affected area below heart level to reduce circulation of venom.

  • Remove jewelry or other constricting items and apply a loose splint to help restrict movement.

  • Monitor temperature, pulse, rate of breathing, and blood pressure if you are able. Manage signs of shock as outlined in Chapter 2.

Do not bring the dead snake in unless it can be done safely, and know that snakes can bite for up to an hour after they are dead. Don't allow the person who has been bitten to exert himself; carry him if you have to transport him. Don't apply a tourniquet or any cold compresses to the bite. Never cut into a bite or try to suction the venom by mouth. Don't allow any medications unless instructed by a doctor and don't give the person any food or drink.

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