Shark Week: Treating a Shark Bite
Shark Week instills fear in those who watch the week-long television event unfold on the Discovery Channel, but maybe it shouldn't: according to Oceana, there have been a total of 179 shark attacks from 2006-2010, and of those, only three resulted in death. These aren't exactly grim statistics, but when you see a shadow lurking below you in the ocean, knowing how to react just might save your life!
Shark Week: Shark Bites & External Bleeding
Shark bites can lead to external bleeding. The human body contains about 10 pints of blood, and of that, most adults can lose 1 pint without showing negative effects. However, with a loss of two pints, you might find yourself or your patient in shock. I should note that children and the elderly are more at risk for slipping into shock.
In order to effectively treat external bleeding, we need to identify the type of bleeding and wounds.
Types of Bleeding
- Arterial: Bright red blood spurting from the wound
- Venous: Dark red blood steadily flowing from the wound.
- Capillary: Blood slowly draining or oozing from the wound.
Arterial blood is the most serious type of bleeding due to the speed of blood loss, and the fact that it's the most difficult of the three to control. Many of the shark bite victims on Shark Week end up with arterial bleeds due to the large jaws and sharp teeth of Tiger Sharks, White Sharks and Bull Sharks. Due to the risk of shock, arterial bleeding needs to be treated immediately.
Types of Wounds
- Laceration: a cut or torn wound
- Puncture: usually a deep wound with minimal bleeding
- Abrasion: a painful scraping away of skin
- Avulsion: skin or tissue completely or partially torn from the body
- Amputation: loss of body part
While a shark bite can cause all wound types, avultions and amputations are the most serious due to severe bleeding and risk of shock.
Shark Week: Treatment of Severe Bleeding
Treating severe bleeding is a high priority in a shark bite incident. Follow these steps:
The priority is to stop the bleeding. Do not attempt to clean the wound.
- Activate EMS, ensure the scene is safe and put on protective equipment
- Lay the victim down.
- Remove any clothing over the wound so you can see where the bleeding is coming from, and if there is anything embedded in the wound.
- Apply continuous, firm direct pressure. Use anything you can find to press against the wound; gauze pads, a twel or a shirt. Do not remove bandages if they become soaked with blood, add more on top.
- Treat for shock (lay flat and maintain body temperature).
- After bleeding has stopped, apply a pressure bandage if needed to secure dressing in place and maintain pressure.
Remember to always seek medical help if a wound is the result of any type of bite (shark or otherwise).
As seen on Shark Week, in many instances of shark bites, a tourniquet may be necessary to control bleeding in an extremity. Tourniquets stop blood flow by compressing blood vessels within the limb. There can be serious consequences to using a tourniquet, and losing a limb is not uncommon. Tourniquets can also be life-threatening when they are not removed by a medical professional. Thus, a tourniquet should only be used in life-threatening situations that involve severe, uncontrollable bleeding from the arm and/or leg. Once applied a tourniquet should not be removed or lessened by first responders.
- Apply a tourniquet to the limb at least 2" above the injury, but not over a joint.
- Tighten the rod just to the point that bleeding stops, and secure it.
- Record the time that you put it on.
- Notify EMS that a tourniquet was applied, and the time.
How to Make a Tourniquet
Since most of us aren't carrying around a first aid kit with a manufactured tourniquet each time we go int he water, it's a good idea to learn how to make one.
Use material that is at least 1 inch wide; follow directions above and tie 2 inches above the wound. Insert any rigid object such as a sturdy stick, branch, or anything you can find and twist the knot until the bleeding stops. Secure the rod with another strip of cloth.
Surfers in our office say you can make a tourniquet out of a wetsuit sleeve, rash guard, and the carry strap off a board bag or strips of a towel. We don't recommend using a board leash (unless it's the only option) because the material needs to be at least an inch wide.
Shark Week: What to Take Away
Sharks are beautiful creatures and pose little risk to humans. You're much more likely to be involved in a fatal traffic collision than bitten by a shark. That being said, if you are ever near a beach when someone is attacked, you'll be prepared. You can also take these first aid skills and apply them to other situations as well!