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Marine animal stings or bites

Marine animal stings or bites refer to venomous or poisonous bites or stings from any form of sea life, including jellyfish.

Almost 2000 species of animals found in the ocean are either venomous or poisonous to humans, and many can produce severe illness or death. An estimated 40,000 to 50,000 bites or stings from marine creatures occur each year. In recent years, the number of injuries caused by these animals has increased dramatically because of the greater number of people who take part in scuba diving, snorkeling, surfing and water sports. These animals are not usually aggressive, and many are stuck to the ocean floor. Most venomous or poisonous marine animals in the United States are found along the California, Gulf of Mexico, and southern Atlantic coasts.

Alternative Names

Stings - marine animals; Bites - marine animals

Considerations

The majority of these types of bites or stings occur in salt water. Some types of marine stings or bites can be deadly.

Causes

Causes include bites or stings from various types of marine life, including: jellyfish , Portuguese Man-of-War, stingray , stonefish , scorpion fish , catfish, sea urchins, sea anemone, hydroid, coral, cone shell, sharks, barracudas, and moray or electric eels.

Symptoms

There may be pain, burning, swelling, redness, or bleeding near the area of the bite or sting. Other symptoms can affect the entire body, and may include:

First Aid

  • Wear gloves, if possible, when removing stingers.
  • Wipe off stingers or tentacles with a towel.
  • Wash the area with salt water.
  • Soak the wound in as hot of water as the patient can tolerate for 30 - 90 minutes, if told to do so by trained personnel.
  • Jellyfish stings should be immediately rinsed with vinegar.
  • Fish stings should be immediately rinsed with hot water.
  • For other types of stings/bites, you may be told to apply vinegar or a meat tenderizer/water-solution to neutralize the venom.

Do Not

  • Do NOT attempt to remove stingers without protecting your own hands.
  • Do NOT raise the affected body part above the level of the heart.
  • Do NOT allow the patient to exercise.
  • Do NOT give any medication, unless told to do so by a health care provider.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Seek medical help (call 911 or your local emergency number) if the person has difficulty breathing, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, or uncontrolled bleeding; if the sting site develops swelling or discoloration, or for other body-wide (generalized) symptoms.

Prevention

  • Swim near a lifeguard.
  • Observe posted signs that may warn of danger from jellyfish or other hazardous marine life.
  • Do not touch unfamiliar marine life. Even dead animals or severed tentacles may contain poisonous venom.

References

Otten EJ. Venomous animal injuries. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al., eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2013:chap 62.

Updated: 1/13/2014

Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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