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Stonefish sting

Definition

Stonefish are members of the family Scorpaenidae, or scorpion fish. The family also includes lionfish. These fish are very good at hiding in their surroundings. The fins of these prickly fish carry poisonous venom. This article describes the effects of a sting from this kind of fish.

This article is for information only. DO NOT use it to treat or manage an actual stonefish sting. If you or someone you are with is stung, call your local emergency number (such as 911) or the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

Poisonous Ingredient

Stonefish venom is poisonous.

Where Found

Poisonous stonefish and related sea animals live in tropical waters, including off the warm coasts of the United States. They are also considered prized aquarium fish, and are found worldwide in aquariums.

Symptoms

A stonefish sting causes intense pain and swelling at the site of the sting. Swelling can spread to an entire arm or leg within minutes.

Below are symptoms of a stonefish sting in different parts of the body.

Airways and lungs

  • Difficulty breathing

Heart and blood

  • No heartbeat
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Low blood pressure
  • Collapse (shock)

Skin

  • Bleeding
  • Severe pain at the site of the sting
  • Whitened color of the area around the sting
  • Change to the color of the area as oxygen decreases

Stomach and intestines

  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting

Nervous system

  • Delirium
  • Fainting
  • Fever (from infection)
  • Headache
  • Muscle twitching
  • Seizures
  • Paralysis

Home Care

Seek medical help right away. Contact your local emergency services. Wash the area with fresh water. Remove any debris, such as sand, at the wound site. Soak wound in the hottest water the person can tolerate for 30 to 90 minutes.

Before Calling Emergency

Have this information ready:

  • Person's age, weight, and condition
  • Type of fish, if known
  • Time of the sting
  • Location of the sting

Poison Control

The National Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) can be called from anywhere in the United States. This national hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.

This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

What to Expect at the Emergency Room

The health care provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. The wound will be soaked in a cleaning solution and any remaining debris will be removed. Symptoms will be treated as appropriate. Some or all of the following procedures may be performed:

  • Blood and urine tests
  • Breathing support, including oxygen, tube through the mouth into the throat, and breathing machine
  • EKG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing)
  • Intravenous fluids (through a vein)
  • Medicine called antiserum to reverse the effect of the venom
  • Medicine to treat symptoms
  • X-rays
  • Tetanus shot, if necessary

Outlook (Prognosis)

Recovery usually takes about 24 to 48 hours. Outcome often depends on how much poisonous venom entered the body, the location of the sting, and how soon the person received treatment. Numbness or tingling may last for several weeks after the sting. Skin breakdown is sometimes severe enough to require surgery.

A puncture to the person's chest or abdomen may lead to death.

References

Auerbach PS. Envenomation by aquatic vertebrates. In: Auerbach PS, ed. Wilderness Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2011:chap 81.

Otten EJ. Venomous animal injuries. In: Marx JA, ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8t ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 62.


Review Date: 7/14/2015
Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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