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JOURNAL ARTICLE

Prospective study of centipede bites in Australia

Corrine R Balit, Mark S Harvey, Julianne M Waldock, Geoffrey K Isbister
Journal of Toxicology. Clinical Toxicology 2004, 42 (1): 41-8
15083935

BACKGROUND: There are limited reports of definite bites by centipedes with expert identification, which are required for attribution of particular clinical effects to different species.

OBJECTIVE: To describe the clinical effects of centipede bites in Australia.

METHODS: Prospective study of calls regarding centipede exposures to a state poison information center, from December 2000 to March 2002. Information collected included demographics, details of the exposure, local effects, systemic effects, and treatment. Collected centipedes were identified by an expert. All subjects were followed until clinical effects had resolved.

RESULTS: Of 48 centipede exposures, 3 were centipede ingestions with no adverse effects and one was a contact reaction to the centipede that resulted in erythema and delayed itchiness. Of 44 definite centipede bites, the centipedes obtained and formally identified in 14 cases were from the genera Scolopendra (5), Cormocephalus (6), and Ethmostigmus (3). Of these 14 bites, 13 occurred distally (hands or feet). Pain occurred in all 14 cases and was severe in 7 patients. Redness/red mark occurred in 53%, swelling/raised area in 43%, and itchiness in 14%. No systemic effects were reported. Ethmostigmus spp. and Scolopendra spp. caused more severe effects. Of the bites, 57% occurred indoors and 50% at night. Treatment consisted of supportive measures including ice packs and simple analgesia, and 4 patients reported pain relief after immersing the bite area in hot water. Similar clinical effects were reported in the other 30 definite centipede bites.

CONCLUSIONS: Australian centipede bites cause minor effects with moderate to severe pain, associated with localized swelling and erythema in bites by the genera Ethmostigmus and Scolopendra. Hot water immersion may potentially be beneficial for centipede bites. The genus Scolopendra occurs worldwide and the results may have international applicability.

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