How To Treat a Scorpion Sting

Bark scorpion
Bark scorpion that stung a child. (c) Kevin Reilly, MD

The only dangerous scorpion in North America—probably the most venomous of all North American bugs—is the bark scorpion (Centruroides exilicauda). Bark scorpions are found in all of Arizona, extending west across the Colorado River into California and east into New Mexico. These critters are ugly (of course they're ugly; they're scorpions) about 3 inches long and have very skinny tails.

A sting from a bark scorpion is probably not deadly unless the person who gets stung is allergic, but it can make you very sick regardless.

If you or someone else gets stung by a scorpion, follow these steps.

Steps

  1. Stay safe
    If you are not the person who got stung, protect yourself from infectious diseases by practicing universal precautions and wearing personal protective equipment, if available. Never touch the scorpion with your bare hands.
  2. Determine how severe the sting is
    Scorpion stings showing signs of anaphylactic shock, such as hives, wheezing, dizziness, chest pain or shortness of breath, will need emergency medical care.

    Bark scorpion stings can cause muscle spasms, random movements, and tremors of the neck or eyes, restlessness, anxiety, agitation and sweating, especially in kids. There is often severe pain at the site of a bark scorpion sting but rarely swelling. If the any of these signs or symptoms is present, follow step 3 and go to the ER.

  3. Get to the ER
    Call 911 for suspected bark scorpion stings or anaphylactic reactions. If 911 is not available, take the victim to the emergency department as quickly as possible. There hasn't been a death due to scorpion stings recorded in the United States in 40 years, but bark scorpions can be deadly. Don't wait, make your way safely to the ER as fast as possible.

    Tips

    1. Scorpions are arachnids, related to spiders, ticks, and mites. They sting to hunt and for protection. They're not stupid—they don't attack humans on purpose. Scorpions can get caught up in bedding or crawl into shoes, which leaves them no choice but to sting when a foot follows them in. Bark scorpion stings are truly dangerous, unlike most bug bites. It's important to treat bark scorpion stings quickly and with care.
    1. If the scorpion is still at the scene of the crime, either trap it under an inverted jar (slide a piece of paper under the jar and flip the whole thing over to catch the scorpion) or pick it up using 8-inch or longer tongs.
    2. Scorpion stings without a serious reaction can be treated with ice on the sting and over-the-counter pain medication.
    3. Bark scorpion antivenom is available only in Arizona. Any sting that shows signs of a bark scorpion needs to be treated at a hospital. Antivenom has been shown to significantly reduce the effects of the sting.

    Source:

    Gouge, D, et al. "Scorpions." Cooperative Extension, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, University of Arizona. 26 Aug 2008

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