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Bites and stings

In addition to providing information on poisoning, the Queensland Poisons Information Centre also provides information on bites and stings.

First aid for bites and stings

While many spider bites result in local pain and swelling, there are few Australian spiders that can cause life threatening illness or death.

Funnel web spider imageFunnel web spider

The Funnel web spider species are found throughout Australia, and while the Sydney Funnel web is the best known of these, several species can be found throughout Queensland. The Funnel web spider can cause life threatening reactions, including death. For all suspected funnel web bites call 000 for an ambulance, use the pressure-immobilisation technique, and have the patient taken immediately to the emergency department of the nearest hospital. Antivenom is available.

Red back spider imageRedback spiders

Redback spiders can cause a painful bite, however only about one in five patients will go on to develop whole body symptoms. Patients should see their doctor immediately if they are allergic to the red back spider venom, have heart disease or are pregnant. All other patients should follow general first aid for bites and stings.

If the patient shows whole body symptoms eg. sweating, muscle aches and pains, nausea or headache, is suffering severe pain (despite first aid measures), the patient should be taken immediately to the emergency department of the nearest hospital. Antivenom is available.

If the area looks infected or inflamed, the patient should see their local doctor.

White tailed spider imageOther spiders

Bites from several spiders including the white tailed spider, black house spider and wolf spider have been blamed for causing skin ulcers or necrotising arachnidism. However, recently published studies have not demonstrated any necrotic ulcers or lesions after known bites. The majority of bites from these spiders resulted only in mild redness, pain, and inflammation.

For more information go to the Australian Venom Research Unit’s webpage on necrotising arachnidism.

For more information on spiders in general, visit the Queensland Museum spiders feature.
(All images courtesy of the Queensland Museum)

Mulga snake imageSnake bites in Australia from land or sea snakes can be potentially fatal and immediate medical assistance should be sought for all cases of suspected snake-bite. While not all snakes are venomous, it is difficult to identify snakes, so all bites should be treated as being potentially dangerous.

If a snake bite occurs, call 000 for an ambulance, use the pressure-immobilisation technique, and have the patient taken immediately to the emergency department of the nearest hospital. Antivenom is available.

If you have a snake in your yard, a local Snake Catcher may be found by searching the Yellow Pages and may remove the snake for a fee. Do not attempt to kill or capture the snake yourself.

For more information on Queensland snakes, see the Queensland Museum Snakes feature.

Ants

Many ants can cause a painful bite or sting. Treat with general first aid for bites and stings.

Fire ant imageFire ants

The fire ant is an exotic species of ant that was first detected in Brisbane in February 2001. The fire ant is considered to be a hazard because of the risk to agriculture and the environment, however they do not pose a significant poisoning risk.

Fire ants are aggressive and can sting repeatedly. A sting from the fire ant can cause two types of reactions:

Stings commonly cause severe burning or “fiery” pain, hence the name, and also swelling, redness and blistering. If blisters are scratched or broken, the area may become infected. Treat stings with general first aid for bites and stings. If the pain persists, or blisters become infected, the patient should see their local doctor.

The second reaction is the rare serious allergy, also known as anaphylaxis. If a patient shows signs of anaphylaxis, call 000 for an ambulance, and have the patient taken immediately to the emergency department of the nearest hospital.

The National Red Imported Fire Ant Eradication Program commenced in 2001, and Biosecurity Queensland manages the program in south-east Queensland monitoring fire ant populations and treating any outbreaks.

Bees and Wasps

Honey bee image Wasp image

Bees and wasps can produce a painful sting, however the major cause for concern is the development of serious allergy, also known as anaphylaxis. If a patient shows signs of anaphylaxis, call 000 for an am

bulance, and have the patient taken immediately to the emergency department of the nearest hospital.

Initial first aid for bees includes gently removing the sting, and then treat the site with general first aid for bites and stings.

Caterpillar imageCaterpillars

A number of species of caterpillars can cause painful, itchy and inflamed skin reactions when hairs they shed become embedded in the patient’s skin. Often the hairs are brittle and break away above the skin surface. These hairs can cause eye injury if they get into the eye.

For caterpillar stings to the skin, remove visible hairs with tweezers, then apply and remove adhesive tape to the area to remove the finer hairs. Do not scratch or rub the area this may cause the hairs to penetrate deeper into the skin. After removal of the hairs, follow general first aid for bites and stings.

See your doctor immediately if there are caterpillar hairs in the eye.

Scorpions, centipedes and millipedes

Australian scorpions, centipedes, and millipedes are not as dangerous as some of their overseas relatives.

Scorpion imageScorpions

Scorpions can deliver a sting that results in severe burning pain for several hours. Treat stings with general first aid for bites and stings.

 

 

 

Centipede imageCentipedes

Centipedes can inflict a very painful bite. Follow general first aid for bites and stings.

 

 

 

Millipede imageMillipedes

Millipedes can squirt a venom that causes blistering, redness, swelling and staining of the skin. Follow general first aid for bites and stings.

Tick image

Common bush ticks or scrub ticks are often found on people. Ticks bury themselves in the skin and scalp. Some Australian ticks release venom into the blood.

Symptoms may include headache, blurred vision, weak limbs and unsteady walking. These symptoms may start a few days after a tick bite.

Ticks can rarely transmit bacteria causing systemic illness (eg Rickettsial infections). Some people may be allergic to tick bites.

Ticks should be killed before removal to reduce the chance of a life threatening allergic reaction and the development of mammalian meat allergy. Trying to remove the tick before it has been killed may cause the tick to inject more toxin, leading to a serious anaphylactic reaction.

First Aid treatment:

The aim of first aid for tick bites is the safe removal of the whole tick, taking care not to squeeze the body of the tick or use any method which may agitate the tick, such as applying kerosene or methylated spirits.

Previous guidelines have recommended the use of fine forceps to remove ticks. Unless very skilled, removal in this manner may pose an allergy risk with increased amounts of toxin release and an increased chance of the tick head remaining embedded in the host.

The Australian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy (ASCIA) recommends either freezing adult ticks with an ether spray (e.g. Wart off spray) or applying permethrin cream (Lyclear cream) to small ticks. Both products are available from a pharmacy. For people with a known tick allergy, this should be done in the hospital emergency department.

  • Wait 10 minutes after treatment for the tick to die, then carefully brush off.
  • Once removed, follow general first aid for bites and stings.
  • Conduct a thorough search of the body for other ticks, especially body folds and creases.
  • Seek advice from the Poisons Information Centre 13 11 26 if any symptoms occur.

Preventative measures to avoid tick bites:

  • Use insect repellent containing diethyltoluamide (DEET) or picaridin before going into tick infested areas.
  • Wear light coloured clothing including long pants tucked into socks, a long-sleeved shirt as well as a wide brimmed hat.

After returning from a tick area, thoroughly check the body of all members of the party (especially children) for ticks. Pay attention to the back of the head and neck, groin, armpits and back of the knees.

Information based on the NSW Poisons Information Centre – Bites and Stings Fact Sheet, with permission.

Venomous marine creatures include the blue-ringed octopus, stonefish, stinging fish, and cone shells.

Blue ringed octopus imageBlue-ringed octopus

The blue-ringed octopus may be found in rock pools, and bites can occur when people touch them or stand on them. The octopus shows their blue markings only when disturbed. Bites from a blue-ringed octopus are potentially fatal. For suspected blue-ringed octopus bites, call 000 for an ambulance, use the pressure-immobilisation technique, and have the patient taken immediately to the emergency department of the nearest hospital.

Box jelly fish imageBox jellyfish

Box jellyfish (Chironex fleckeri) are found mostly in the warm waters north of the Tropic of Capricorn. Stings are potentially fatal.

Douse the tentacles with vinegar, and then call 000 for an ambulance. If the patient isn’t breathing start “mouth-to-mouth” resuscitation. Do not attempt to remove the tentacles. Do not rub the sting.

Bluebottle

Blue bottles (Physalia sp) can be found in all coastal waters. The sting can cause immediate intense pain followed by redness at the site.

Remove any remaining adherent tentacles by washing the area with water. Soaking the affected area in hot but not scolding water (ideally 45 C) for 20 minutes may relieve the pain. This is not suitable for infants, the very elderly, or those with poor skin condition as hot water may burn the skin.

Do not use vinegar. If pain persists, patient should see their local doctor.

Irukandji syndrome

Irukandji syndrome is caused by a sting from the Carukia barnesi jellyfish, which is found mainly in northern Australia. Although the majority of cases are not life threatening, irukandj syndrome can be a potentially lethal condition. The initial sting is often innocouous and usually not felt, but this can develop into a progressive syndrome (over minutes to hours) characterised by restlessness, sweating, nausea, vomiting and severe pain affecting the limbs, back, abdomen or chest.

For suspected irukandji syndrome douse the site with vinegar. The patient should be transported to the nearest hospital for medical assessment.

Other jellyfish

Other jellyfish can produce painful stings. Remove any remaining adherent tentacles by washing with water, and then apply ice packs to relieve the pain. The patient should see their local doctor if the pain is severe and not relieved by pain-killers.

Stonefish imageStonefish

Stonefish are found in all coastal waters and some fresh water sites. Although there are no reported deaths in Australia, stonefish stings can be potentially fatal. Stone fish spine penetration can result in severe and persistent pain and in these cases the patient should be transported to the nearest hospital immediately for treatment. Antivenom is available.

First aid for stone fish stings involves washing the wound site immediately and soaking the affected area in hot but not scolding water (ideally 45 C) for up to 90 minutes may relieve the pain. This is not suitable for infants, the very elderly, or those with poor skin condition as hot water may burn the skin.

Butterfly cod imageOther stinging fish

Stinging fish, including butterfly cod, scorpion cod, cobbler, catfish, happy moments and flathead, can produce painful injuries. For these stings, soaking the affected area in hot but not scolding water (ideally 45 C) for up to 90 minutes may relieve the pain. If pain persists, the sting has caused a deep wound, or other symptoms are present, the patient should see their local doctor.

Cone shell imageCone shell

The cone shell has a small “harpoon” that can penetrate the skin and cause envenomation. The venom can very quickly cause life-threatening paralysis. For all stings from a cone shell call 000 for an ambulance, use the pressure-immobilisation technique, and have the patient taken immediately to the emergency department of the nearest hospital.

Cane toads

The cane toad secretes a toxin that can be poisonous to humans and animals. When the toxin is squirted onto the skin or into the eyes, first aid should be immediately performed. The toxin can cause pain and severe irritation to the eyes, or temporary visual disturbances.

When swallowed, the toxin may affect the heart, blood pressure, breathing and cause paralysis. If  the toxin is ingested, the mouth should be cleaned carefully with a toothbrush or cloth. If the patient becomes unwell or develops vomiting, dizziness or chest pain, they should be transported to the nearest hospital for medical assessment.

The Queensland Poisons Information Centre does not support the use of alternate medicines that contain cane toad toxins.

For more information on cane toads, see the Queensland Museum’s website.

Bats

Australian Bat Lyssavirus (ABL) has been found in several species of flying foxes and bats in Australia. The infection may be transmitted from bats to humans after scratches or bites.

For further information contact your local Public Health Unit (Tropical Queensland, Central Regional Services, or Southern Regional Services).

If bitten or scratched by a bat, wash the area with soap and water for five minutes, apply an antiseptic, and then see your local doctor.