December 01, 2016

Are scorpion bites dangerous?

Q: Are scorpion bites dangerous?

A: Contrary to popular belief, scorpions don't bite, they sting, using the stingers in their tails. Although painful, the stings are mostly harmless.

In the U.S., only the bark scorpion, found mainly in the desert Southwest, has venom potent enough to cause severe symptoms. Elsewhere, lethal scorpion stings occur predominantly in Mexico, South America, and parts of Africa, the Middle East and India.

Mild signs and symptoms of a scorpion sting include pain and numbness, tingling, or slight swelling in the area around the sting. Cleaning the wound, applying cold compresses, elevating the affected area and using nonprescription pain relievers can provide relief.

More-serious signs and symptoms can include difficulty breathing, seizure-like movements, drooling, sweating, vomiting, rapid or irregular heart rate, and very high or low blood pressure. These require emergency assessment and possible hospitalization. Treatment in the hospital may include bed rest and the use of medications to control muscle spasms, elevated blood pressure, agitation and pain. An antivenom (Anascorp) is available to reduce severe symptoms from stings of the bark scorpion.

The very old and the very young are most at risk of fatal complications such as heart or respiratory failure occurring some hours after an untreated sting. Few deaths from scorpion stings have been reported in the U.S.

Bark scorpions are nocturnal and like to hide under rocks, and among logs and firewood. You're more likely to encounter them when working outdoors, hiking or camping, but they can also hitch a ride home on clothing or in luggage or containers. If you're...