Luis Suarez's bite was more dangerous than it looked - expert

Uruguay's Luis Suarez holds his teeth after biting Italy's Giorgio Chiellini's shoulder.
Photo / AP
Uruguay's Luis Suarez holds his teeth after biting Italy's Giorgio Chiellini's shoulder. Photo / AP

There has been constant speculation about footballer Luis Suarez's career after he bit an Italian player in the World Cup - but little concern for his victim, Giorgio Chiellini.

Yet being bitten isn't just painful and unpleasant, it can have serious health implications.

"The bite of a human can be an extremely dangerous wound," says Professor Stanislav Dusko Ehrlich from the Dental Institute of King's College, London.

"There are more than 700 different strains of oral bacteria and a healthy human mouth typically contains between 100 and 200 at any time.

"If the bite pierces the skin, this bacteria will enter the body and has the potential to pose a serious threat."

Grandmother Wendy Thomas suffered a bite in much more innocent circumstances, but knows only too well the serious implications. She was hospitalised and nearly lost a finger after a playful bite from her grandson turned toxic.

The two-year-old accidentally bit her during a bathtime tussle over a flannel he had clamped between his teeth.

"It looked no worse than a pin prick and I thought nothing more about it at the time," says Wendy, 67, a retired lab technician from the UK.

"My grandson Jake's not a biter. I know some youngsters are while teething, but this was purely in play."

The finger felt slightly tender the next day but it wasn't until the following night that she realised something was wrong.

Wendy recalls: "I woke in the night as my finger was really painful. I tried to get out of bed but was so dizzy and faint that I barely made it to the bathroom before I started throwing up."

The next thing she remembers is her husband Chris, 67, pushing her into A&E at Lymington Hospital in a wheelchair.

When Chris said the symptoms started with a bite, she was immediately seen by doctors and put on intravenous antibiotics.

They explained that her body was trying, and failing, to fight off a streptococcal infection as bacteria in the mouth - even a two-year-old's - can turn a wound toxic.

Plastic surgeon Philip Geary, locum consultant at Salisbury hospital, says: "People fondly expect that the human mouth is cleaner than an animal's, but we have to disappoint them."

He deals with people who have been bitten by pets and livestock - but forty per cent of the bites he sees are human, and typically on young men who get into drunken fights.

Many people don't seek treatment at all as they assume human bites aren't serious, or stay away out of guilt and embarrassment, says Mr Geary.

"We see a lot of 'fight bites', as we call them, but there is often a delay as guys don't want to say that their knuckle started bleeding after they punched someone in the face."

The hands are the most commonly bitten part of the body and the most susceptible to complications, because there is so little flesh around the joints and it's easier for teeth to penetrate the protective casing around nerves and ligaments.

That's what happened to Wendy: Jake's bite punctured Wendy's flesh and the flexor sheath around the ligament on her finger.

This meant the infection became trapped inside the sheath, where there is no blood flow - the body's normal way of flushing out the poisons.

Wendy spent four days on an intravenous drip before being sent home, but a week later there was no improvement so she was transferred to Southampton General Hospital for surgery to 'irrigate' the finger and flush out the infection with saline solution.

This involved inserting a thin plastic tube into the sheath round the ligament. By now her hand and forearm were red and swollen.

"The anaesthetist told me that if the procedure didn't work, I may lose the finger," says Wendy. "It seemed unreal. I burst into tears."

Wendy spent 14 days in hospital, having two operations to flush out the toxins and remove 'necrotic' or dead tissue from the wound, followed by 12 weeks of physiotherapy.

"It could be a year before it feels normal again," she says. "People can't believe it was all caused by a bite from my grandson. We need to be more aware of how dangerous a human bite can be."

- Daily Mail

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