Health & Fitness

Biting the Blarney Stone

Bars and ClubsRepublic of IrelandDining and DrinkingHealthMedicine

When it comes to getting bitten, men are way ahead of women — at least in Ireland. In a survey of all the people afflicted with "human bites" admitted to a Dublin plastic surgery department, a stunning 92% were male. It's also interesting to note that 70% of these accidents happened on a weekend or holiday, and 82% of the injuries happened between 11 p.m. and 4 a.m.

And would you be surprised to learn that 86% of these cases involved alcohol?

The survey, published in the July issue of the Emergency Medicine Journal, summarizes the results of 96 human bite cases admitted to the Department of Plastic, Reconstructive, and Hand Surgery at St. James Hospital in the years 2003 to 2005. (To be precise: what was defined in this study as a bite was only a "mouth-attacks-body-part" — or occlusive — bite. The study didn't include so-called "fight bites" which occur, for example, when someone punches you in the face, and your teeth happen to cut that guy's fist, although that is also, technically, a bite.)

Most of these bites, it appears, were pub-brawl-related.

Researchers found that 20% of the bite victims developed an infection — a higher rate than for your average wound. They say this is because a sober milliliter of saliva has 900 million bacteria, and the bite conveniently carries them all right to a bodily entry point.

They don't comment on whether the elevated blood alcohol levels associated with these accidents might have some antiseptic effect, which is good, since it's not the sort of preventive medicine we'd endorse.

If you're planning a visit to Ireland any time soon and the idea of scoring your own set of battle scars doesn't appeal, you might want to visit "Give Us the Night" at www.giveusthenight.com and read about a campaign to make pub closings later and staggered.

Irish pubs close at 12:30 a.m. on weekends and nightclubs at 1:30 a.m., with some exceptions. The music professionals who run the site say that early, simultaneous shutdowns encourage binge drinking before closing time and floods of boisterous hooligans on the street immediately after, leading to more violence.

Staggered closings work well in Canada and Australia, they claim — but until we see some human bite data from those countries, we'll reserve judgment.

— Chelsea Martinez

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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