Australian scorpion stings not fatal

brown scorpion

Scorpions are common throughout Australian gardens and in the bush. There are many different species, with the most venomous located in the Northern Territory. The smallest ones tend to be the most venomous in Australia. Contrary to popular belief, Australian scorpion stings do not appear to have life-threatening effects, even in children, researchers from the University of Newcastle have found. There are no recorded deaths from the sting of an Australian scorpion.The sting of the scorpion is at the end of its long tail. It is here that the venom is located. Scorpions catch their prey with their pincers and then envenom it with their tail.

Symptoms of a scorpion sting

While the stings cause severe pain localised to the area of the sting, for several hours, they seem to have no major systemic effects. Other side-effects that may be experienced include redness, tenderness, numbness, paraesthesia (abnormal prickly sensation), nausea, headaches and tiredness/fatigue. There is no evidence of any recorded allergic reactions to the venom of Australian scorpions.

What to do if you are stung by a scorpion

The recommended treatment is to wash the sting site with soap and water, apply antiseptic and a cold pack to the sting area and, if you need to, take a mild pain-relief medicine, such as paracetamol. If you are not up to date with your tetanus shot,  you should go to the doctor for immunisation.

Complications

Severe localised pain may occur for a number of hours after the sting, but there is unlikely to be any other effect.In a study of nearly 100 scorpion stings in Australia, all the people stung experienced immediate localised pain, with 80 per cent experiencing severe pain. Pain lasted a median (that’s the middle value) of 6 hours. The main complication of a scorpion sting is the risk of the sting site becoming infected. If the pain persists or you think the sting site is becoming  infected seek medical attention.

Prevention

Scorpions are common in gardens, living in burrows in the mulch or plant litter. Scorpions in Australia are nocturnal in general and in the study of Australian scorpion stings most occurred in the evening indoors. Most people are stung when they step on a scorpion, for example when getting out of bed in the night, but you can also be stung while trying to pick one up or trying to pick up an object with a scorpion on it. Most scorpion stings occur on the lower arms or lower legs. You can reduce the risk of a scorpion sting by wearing tough gloves when gardening or working outside, as well as protective shoes. 

Last Reviewed: 5 February 2016
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References

1. Isbister GK, Volschenk ES, Balit CR, Harvey MS. Australian scorpion stings: a prospective study of definite stings. Toxicon 2003; 41: 877-83. Accessed at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12782088
2. Australian Museum. Scorpions. Last updated Oct 2015. http://australianmuseum.net.au/scorpions.
3. Australian Doctor. Small bite; big pain. Geoffrey Isbister. 10 November 2011. http://www.australiandoctor.com.au/clinical/grand-rounds/small-bite,-big-pain
4. Austin Health. Bites and stings. http://www.austin.org.au/page?ID=534#Section9 (accessed Feb 2016).
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