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Centipede Bites and Treatment

(Class - Chilopoda)

Banded desert centipede, with last segment showing modified legs used for mating and defense.

 


Centipedes of the United States, especially the larger ones such as the giant desert centipede (Scolopendra heros) and the banded desert centipede (Scolopendra polymorpha), can inflict an intensely painful, though rarely (if ever) fatal, bite, or more accurately, a pinch. They puncture your skin with a powerful pair of modified, hollow, clawed legs located on the first body segment, immediately behind the head. They use the legs and claws like hypodemic syringes to draw venom from poison sacks within the body trunk and inject it into your flesh.

Frequency of Centipede Bites

Centipede bites do not appear to be tallied in the U. S., although they likely occur most often in the southern and southwestern parts of the country, where the larger species occur. Likely, the bites do not occur as frequently as ant, wasp, bee or hornet stings. "Most human centipede bites," said Jerome Goddard in his Physician's Guide to Arthropods of Medical Importance, "result when a centipede is stepped on, picked up, or otherwise contacts the body." You may meet a centipede when pulling on clothing or getting into bed, where it has sought refuge.

Typical Symptoms

At the site of the bite, you can expect:

  • Two puncture wounds, one from each of the modified leg claws, and
  • Immediate and sometimes radiating pain as well as redness and localized swelling.

Although the pain may last for no more than several hours to a several days - some compare it to a bee sting - you might suffer more serious symptoms, for instance:

  • Intense itching, local tenderness, headache, swollen lymph glands, dizziness, nausea, palpitations, anxiety and increasing blood pressure, and
  • Local tissue damage.

In addition to the bite, you might also experience small puncture wounds, laced with blister-causing venom, in the tracks where the clawed centipede crawled across your skin.

Treatment

The National Center for Health Statistics reported only five "possible" deaths attributable centipede bites in the United States between 1991 and 2001, although it had no conclusive documentary evidence. Nevertheless, if bitten, you should promptly wash the wound with soap and water to minimize the possibility for infection. You can apply ice (on for 10 minutes, off for 10 minutes) or a cool wet dressing and a local anesthetic agent onto the site of the bite to relieve the pain.

In instances of more serious symptoms, you should seek medical care, where, say several doctors writing for the Wilderness Medical Society, "...systemic analgesics are standard, and significant doses of narcotics are often necessary to achieve relief. Antihistamines may also be used to alleviate symptoms (such as pruritus [intense itching]). Cleansing of the wound, tetanus prophylaxis [infection preventative], and routine care for any necrosis [dead tissue] are indicated."

"Despite the striking appearance of the offender and the significant pain associated with a sting," said the doctors, "treatment for centipede envenomation is essentially pain control and routine wound care."

More Common Questions About Centipedes

How do I recognize a centipede?

How do I control centipede infestations?

How do I tell the difference between a centipede and a millipede?

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