Each year about 1 percent of hospital emergency department visits are for animal bites. Human bites are rather uncommon, only a small percentage of bites, but they pose a problem because of the high risk of wound infection.

Most human bites result from youngsters in a fight, from children at play, by persons in mental institutions, or during sexual assaults. Because human bites can be embarrassing and perhaps involve legal circumstances, many people do not seek immediate medical attention. Those who seek medical care usually are: 1) victims with a great deal of trauma, and 2) victims seeking medical assistance after an infection has developed.Although most human bites occur during acts of violence, about a fourth happen accidentally during sports, during an attempt by hospital workers trying to restrain children and seizure patients, or in law enforcement officers arresting or restraining others against their will.

Men are bitten more than women. Most are adolescent and young adult males in aggressive altercations. Most often the bites are encountered in big city hospitals, many of them from Saturday night brawls. This may be due to an increase in alcohol consumption.

The warmer months, between March and July, have the highest bite rates, while the cold months of January and February have the lowest rates.

Most human bite wounds occur on the upper extremities, followed by the head and neck. By far the most common location is the hand, involving the third or fourth finger joints - indicating a "punch" or closed fist type of injury.

Of all mammal bitess, those from humans pose the greatest potential for serious infection because the human mouth contains the largest variety of bacterial species. This condition varies, of course, with the degree of dental hygiene. One study showed that nearly half of all simple human bites appeared to be infected, and a 100 percent infection rate was seen in clenched-fist injuries.

A typical human-bite wound might have more than 40 species of bacteria present. Bites from children seem less hazardous than those from adults, perhaps because children have more aerobic than anaerobic bacteria.

First aid involves controlling bleeding with direct pressure. Follow this by irrigating the wound with soap and water. Lightly bandage the wound to allow adequate drainage of the wound. Consult with a medical doctor about stitches, better wound cleaning and a regimen of antibiotics.

The rabies virus normally is not transferred in the human bite. Syphilis and hepatitis B have been transmitted through human bites. Although human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) has been isolated from human saliva, to my knowledge no case of AIDS has yet been transmitted by a human bite.

It is difficult to determine the true incidence of human bites. Many victims never receive treatment because they are reluctant to seek medical treatment because of the embarrassing circumstances. However, it is known that infection rates can be substantially reduced if the bite wound victim seeks medical attention promptly after being wounded.