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Emergency and first Aid Measures for Bites and Stings

Bites and stings can result in severe first aid emergencies, requiring immediate care and even transport to a medical facility. Depending on the type of bite or sting, first aid treatment may include care for open wounds, care for injected poison, and/or care for vector-borne pathogens.

Animal and Human Bites

Animal and human bites often result in painful, open wounds with a great risk of infection.

– A serious risk of any animal bite is rabies, a potentially fatal disease transmitted by the saliva and urine of infected mammals. An animal’s behavior is the biggest clue that it may have rabies. Animals that appear overly aggressive, that salivate, or that act injured or unusually quiet may be diseased.

– Human bites may be the most contaminated with bacteria, and therefore the most likely to result in infection.

– Tetanus, a potentially fatal infection of the central nervous system caused by bacterial toxins, can result from animal and human bites.

To care for animal and human bites:

(1) Separate the victim from the animal or person biting them without endangering yourself.

(2) Get a description of the animal or person. Do not attempt to restrain a potentially dangerous animal or person. Call the police or animal control.

(3) If bleeding is minor, wash the wound with soap and water, control any bleeding, apply an antibiotic ointment, and bandage. (If the bite is bleeding severely, control the bleeding and bandage; do not attempt to cleanse the wound.)

(4) Seek medical attention for all animal and human bites.


Venomous snakes use their venom to kill or immobilize prey. Venom can either be hemotoxic (causing damage to blood vessels), myotoxic (causing muscle damage), or neurotoxic (causing nerve damage).

The bite of venomous snakes can be fatal to humans, especially if the victim is in poor health, has an allergic reaction, or goes without treatment until too late. The only known antidote for a snakebite is an antivenin prepared for type of venom that has been injected. Some of the deadliest snakes live in areas where help and antivenin may not be readily available, such as wilderness areas in Africa, Asia, or Australia.

First aid for snakebite is relatively simple, but few injuries have more erroneous treatments out there. To care for a snakebite, DO the following:

(1) Wash the wound with soap and water. This is a good treatment step for any bite.

(2) Immobilize the affected body part and keep it lower than the heart.

(3) Keep the victim still. If possible, bring transport vehicles, etc. to the victim or carry the victim to transportation.

(4) Monitor the victim’s vital signs and treat for shock.

(5) Get the victim to the hospital as soon as possible.

Regardless of what you may have heard or been taught, DO NOT DO any of the following for a snakebite:

– Do not cut the wound. This causes further injury to the victim and may not remove a significant amount of venom.

– Do not apply a tourniquet. This also can cause injury by restricting blood flow and may not be necessary if the victim can get medical attention within 30 minutes or less.

– Do not apply ice. While cold is a usual treatment to reduce swelling, the cold causes the venom to be drawn deeper into the body as blood vessels constrict.

– Do not apply an electric shock. This has not been proven to denature the venom and is an obvious safety risk (both to the victim and others).

Insect and Arachnid Bites

Most insect and arachnid bites are not fatal to humans, but they may be painful, they may be destructive to local tissue, or they may induce an allergic reaction, called anaphylaxis.

– Insect stings: (1) Remove the stinger, if present, by scraping it away with a finger or credit card; (2) Wash and cover the wound; (3) Apply a cold pack to reduce pain and swelling; (4) Watch for signs of an allergic reaction (hives, swelling, breathing difficulty, etc.); (5) If signs of an allergic reaction appear, assist the victim in administering any medicine prescribed for the victim to counteract anaphylaxis; and (6) Seek medical attention to further assist in counteracting the allergic reaction.

– Tick bites: (1) Remove the tick carefully using tweezers (grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and pull slowly); (2) Apply an antiseptic to the wound; and (3) Seek medical attention, especially if a rash develops or the victim begins to feel ill.

– Spider bites/scorpion stings: If a victim has a severe reaction to a spider bite (including severe pain or cramping, vomiting, difficulty breathing, irregular heartbeat, salivation, etc.), (1) monitor vital signs and (2) seek immediate medical attention. (For scorpion stings, you may wash the wound and apply a cold pack. For spider bites, the wound is better cleansed at the medical facility.)

Bites/Stings from Marine Life

Certain forms of marine life can cause painful bites or stings.

– Bites by marine animals: Care for marine animal bites using the same steps as for animal bites (previously explained).

– Stings from jelly fish or sea anenome: (1) Soak the affected area in vinegar or rubbing alcohol; (2) Watch for signs of an allergic reaction and monitor vital signs; and (3) Seek medical attention.

– Stings from sea urchins, stingrays, or lion/stone fish: (1) Initially flush with ocean water; (2) Immobilize the area; (3) Soak the area in hot water until the pain goes away; (4) Watch for signs of an allergic reaction and monitor vital signs; and (5) Seek medical attention.