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The Informed Parent

The Bite Of The Stingray

by Peter W. Welty, M.D., F.A.A.P.
Published on Sep. 25, 2000

One local family came in to see me after spending a lovely summer vacation traveling to Mexico. They had rented a house on the beach and had enjoyed the fruits of nature for four weeks. Dad voiced his concern about the environment with the question about stingrays. He had been told that they were plentiful in the very area that they were vacationing in. Was there anything he could have done in order to treat a possible bite since they were far from medical treatment?

The stingray poses a potential danger because of the venom in the spine located on the back of the animal’s tail. Injury from a stingray occurs when the victim inadvertently walks on the ray in the surf, slough or in a bay. This causes the animal to whip its tail up and forward, driving the spine into the victim’s foot or leg.

The venom is immediately released into the victim’s tissues, causing immediate and severe pain. The pain is often limited to the area of injury, and generally reaches its greatest intensity in less than 90 minutes. It often persists, and usually will gradually decrease in intensity over the next 6-48 hours. There also may be lightheadedness, weakness, nausea, and anxiety. Some people may complain of vomiting, diarrhea, sweating and muscle cramps.

It is important to try to remove the spine, if possible. Then irrigate the area with salt water. You next need to immerse the injured extremity in hot water, at as high a temperature that the victim can stand without injury, for 30-90 minutes. The injured extremity should then be kept elevated for several hours or several days. Wound infections from stingray stings are usually rare, but see your doctor if the bite area does not improve.

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