Marine Scorpaenidae Envenomation in Travelers: Epidemiology, Management, and Prevention

James H Diaz
Journal of Travel Medicine 2015, 22 (4): 251-8

BACKGROUND: The Scorpaenidae are a large family of venomous marine fish that include scorpionfish, lionfish, and stonefish. Although most stonefish are confined to the Indo-Pacific, scorpionfish are distributed in the tropics worldwide, and two species of Indo-Pacific lionfish were inadvertently introduced into the Eastern Atlantic in the 1990s. Since then, lionfish have invaded shallow reef systems in the Eastern Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Sea. All of these regions are popular travel destinations for beachcombing, fishing, swimming, and scuba diving-recreational activities that increase risks of Scorpaenidae envenomation.

METHODS: To meet the objectives of describing species-specific presenting clinical manifestations, diagnostic and treatment strategies, and outcomes of Scorpaenidae envenomation in travelers, Internet search engines were queried with the key words.

RESULTS: Well-conducted, retrospective epidemiological investigations of Scorpaenidae envenomation case series concluded: (1) most cases occurred in young adult male vacationers visiting endemic regions; (2) victims sought medical attention for pain control within 2 hours of injury and presented with intense pain, edema, and erythema in affected extremities; (3) systemic manifestations and surgical interventions were relatively uncommon following initial management with hot water soaks and parenteral analgesics; (4) all cases required tetanus prophylaxis; deeply penetrating, lacerated, and necrotic wounds required antibiotic prophylaxis; and (5) equine Fab stonefish antivenom does have antigen-neutralizing cross-reactivities with both Indo-Pacific and Atlantic Scorpaenidae species and is indicated in severe scorpionfish and stonefish envenomation worldwide.

CONCLUSIONS: Travel medicine practitioners should counsel their patients about Scorpaenidae envenomation risks in endemic regions and maintain a high index of suspicion regarding Scorpaenidae envenomation in all travelers returning from tropical beach and ocean holidays and reporting painful fish sting injuries.

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