|Underside of Scolopendra cingulata, showing the forcipules|
A centipede bite is an injury resulting from the action of a centipede's forcipules, stinger-like appendages that pierce the skin and inject venom into the wound. Such a wound is not strictly speaking a bite, as the forcipules are a modified first pair of legs rather than true mouthparts. Clinically, the wound is viewed as a cutaneous condition characterized by paired hemorrhagic marks that form a chevron shape caused by the paired forcipules.
The centipede's venom causes pain and swelling in the area of the bite, and may cause other reactions throughout the body. The majority of bites are not life-threatening to humans and present the greatest risk to children and those who develop allergic reactions.
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Symptoms which are most likely to develop include:
- severe pain, which is usually proportional to the size of the centipede
- swelling and redness
- skin necrosis
- local bleeding
- swollen, painful lymph nodes in the regions of the bitten limb
- palpitations or a racing pulse
- nausea and vomiting, although this is rare
- local itching and burning sensations.
The pain caused by centipede bites is often described as comparable to pain from scorpion stings and snakebites. However, unlike scorpions and snakes, for which certain species can be much more venomous than others, the venom toxicity of centipedes appears to be more uniform across all species. Therefore, the amount and intensity of pain from centipede bites tends to be strongly correlated to the size of the centipede, which is further enhanced by the fact that larger centipedes have larger forcipules that can inject venom deeper into the skin.
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Immediate treatment consists of rinsing the bite site in cold water. If not too painful, ice the bite site. This constricts the blood vessels so the venom does not spread. Also recommended is papain, an enzyme that breaks down protein. Papain can be found in meat tenderizer and papaya. This deactivates the majority of the centipede venom's proteins. Depending on the type of centipede and level of envenomation, this treatment may not degrade the entire venom dose and residual pain will remain.
Reassurance and pain relief is often given in the form of painkillers, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, antihistamines and anti-anxiety medications. In a severe case the affected limb can be elevated and diuretic medications can be administered.
- James, William D.; Berger, Timothy G.; et al. (2006). Andrews' Diseases of the Skin: clinical Dermatology. Saunders Elsevier. ISBN 0-7216-2921-0.
- "Centipede Bite". Orkin. 2011. Retrieved April 29, 2011.
- Sean P. Bush; Bradley O. King; Robert L. Norris; Scott A. Stockwell (2001). "Centipede envenomation". Wilderness & Environmental Medicine. 12 (2): 93–99. doi:10.1580/1080-6032(2001)012[0093:CE]2.0.CO;2. PMID 11434497.
- Henri Bernardin de Saint-Pierre, Voyage à l'Isle de France, à l'Isle de Bourbon, au Cap de Bonne-Espérance, etc. avec des observations nouvelles sur la nature et sur les hommes (Paris: 1773), p. 128.