5 Diseases You Can Get From Being Bitten—By A Human | Smart News | Smithsonian
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5 Diseases You Can Get From Being Bitten—By A Human

As Uruguayan soccer player Luis Suárez demonstrated yesterday, sometimes people bite others. Here are five diseases you can get from human chomps.

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It's not every day that you hear of a human being biting another. But Uruguayan soccer player Luis Suárez showed us all yesterday that people—even full-grown humans—occasionally bite others. During a match with Italy, Suárez appeared to chomp the shoulder of Italian defender Giorgio Chiellini. "Surely not again," the announcer said. "Surely not again." Yes, Suárez has bitten players during games twice before.

Most cases of human bites involve children or drunk people. (One question nobody's asked: Perhaps Suárez is a drunk child?) One case study of 92 bitten people found that 86 percent of cases involved alcohol (and 92 percent of bitees—the actual technical name!—were men). But these injuries are no laughing matter, as bite wounds can be very serious, even deadly. Here are five diseases than can be spread from bites:

1. Infections. Human mouths contain high levels of bacteria, especially of the variety that can infect human tissues. And bites quite effectively transfer these bugs. "The bacterial inoculum"—that which can be grown out and detected—"of human bite wounds is rich in oral flora, containing as many as 100 million organisms per milliliter that represent as many as 190 different species," Medscape noted. Yes, you have a dirty mouth.

About 10 to 20 percent of human bites become infected, and these can become quite nasty. Most bites, and infections, occur on the hand—in fact, about one third of hand infections come from bites. "These infections can move quickly and cause major complications, including destruction of the joint, if not treated promptly," according to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons.

One review of 50 cases of human bites found an average of four infectious agents. More than half of the infections contained Streptococcus anginosus, a bacterium in the same genus as that which causes strep throat. Nearly a third involved Staphylococcus aureus, the cause of most Staph infections.

2. Hepatitis B and C. Both of these viruses, but especially Hep B, can come from a bite. Both affect the liver, and this study suggests that anybody who is bitten should be tested for Hepatitis B. It also suggests that the biter be tested for Hep C, since it is more likely that the aggressor will get this (typically) blood-borne pathogen from drawing blood. On that note, if vampires existed, they would likely be a very diseased bunch.

3. HIV. It is technically possible, though very very unlikely, for somebody to acquire human immunodeficiency virus by biting or being bitten. Here is a case described in the Malawi Medical Journal of a woman getting HIV after being bitten on her lip by a HIV-positive sex worker during a fight. Here is another (disgusting) case of a man getting HIV from his son after a fight—in which the HIV-positive foster son bit off the man's thumbnail. It had previously been generally assumed the HIV couldn't be transmitted through saliva, since saliva inhibits the virus, but that doesn't appear to be true in every case.

4. Herpes. Oh great, you can get herpes from a bite. Several studies said this was possible; no specific case reports turned up. It of course stands to reason this could happen since the herpes simplex virus is carried in saliva.

5. Rabies. This may seem like the obvious one. However, though "human-to-human transmission by bite is theoretically possible," it has never been confirmed, according to the World Health Organization.

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