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Keep Your Mouth Shut: The Danger of Human Bites

Ciellini Bite

It was the bite seen round the world.

During today's World Cup match, Uruguay's Luis Suarez bit Italy's Giorgio Chiellini on the shoulder during game play. Instantly, no one cared about the score any more, as fans rushed to their keyboards to weigh in on Suarez's unsportsmanlike behavior, and launch a thousand internet memes based on the incident. But while many are making this into a joke, in reality a bite wound is no laughing matter.

"Human bites are capable of transmitting infectious diseases," says Jamie Quinlan, DNP, nurse manager of the emergency department at University of Utah Hospital. Quinlan says even what appears to be a minor wound contains high levels of bacteria — in fact more than 600 types of bacteria are present in the human mouth at any time including strains of staph and strep. Those bacteria could lead to conditions like cellulitis, lymphangitis, or impetigo. A bite could also lead to transmission of hepatitis or HIV if those illnesses are present, and blood to blood contact is made.

There is no word on whether Suarez seriously injured Chiellini with the bite. While it was through the material of his jersey, Chiellini was showing off visible bite marks on his shoulder after the incident. Even if it didn't break the skin, his bite, and any bite for that matter, needs attention. "You should wash with soap and water immediately and rinse for several minutes under warm running water," says Quinlan. If the bite did draw blood? Quinlan says, "You should seek medical advice for all human bites that break the skin or cause bleeding due to the high risk of infection." Above all else, do not put the wounded area into your own mouth because that will just increase the bacterial infection.

Chiellini is going home from the World Cup with no victory, but a part in one of the most talked about incidents during the competition. Hopefully, that's all he taking home, and not a bite related infection as well. While Uruguay is still in the tournament, Suarez could face suspension from game play.

His biting may come back to bite him.