Bites and Stings

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Each year, Arizona Poison Control Center typically receives about 2,500 calls a year for scorpion stings and 150 to 200 snake bites.

Insect/Spider Bites - Insect bites and stings are common and most are considered minor. It's only when the insect is venomous or when the patient has an allergic reaction that the risk of developing anaphylactic shock turns the situation into an emergency. Even under those conditions, accurate diagnosis and prompt treatment can save lives. The normal reaction to an insect sting is a sharp, stinging pain followed by an itchy, swollen, painful raised area. The swelling may be there for several days, but usually goes away within 24 hours. Local reactions are rarely serious or life-threatening and can be treated with cold compresses. However, there are some people who have allergic reactions to "normal" insect stings. Thousands of people are allergic to bee, wasp and hornet stings. Insect stings can be deadly for those people, on the average, within 10 minutes of the sting, but almost always within the first hour.

Some symptoms may include:

  • A pinprick sensation at the bite site, becoming a dull ache within 30 to 40 minutes.
  • Pain and spasms in the shoulders, back, chest and abdominal muscles within 30 minutes and up to three hours.
  • Rigid, board like abdomen
  • Restlessness and anxiety
  • Fever
  • Rash
  • Headache
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Flushing
  • Sweating
  • Grimacing


  • Treat for shock
  • Apply a cold compress, but do not apply ice
  • Transport to hospital as quickly as possible

Scorpions - Scorpions can be found anywhere in Arizona. Just because you’ve never seen one doesn’t mean they aren’t around. There are many species of scorpions found in Arizona, but only one is potentially lethal and that's the bark scorpion. It prefers dark, cool places. Ninety percent of all scorpion stings occur on the hands. Typically they hide in debris piles, wood piles and on the bark of trees. They will congregate where there is food and water for them. Scorpions eat insects and bugs such as roaches and crickets.

Some symptoms may include:

  • Sharp pain at the site of the sting
  • Swelling that gradually spreads 
  • Discoloration
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Restlessness
  • Drooling
  • Poor coordination
  • Incontinence
  • Seizures


  • Apply ice to relieve the pain of the sting
  • Be sure the victim's airway stays clear
  • Transport to a hospital

Africanized Honey Bees - Africanized honey bees are the  cousin of the more common European honey bee found in Arizona. They often are called "killer bees," but in reality their stings are less potent and painful than the common bee sting. They defend their nesting sites very aggressively, sometimes stinging their victims hundreds of times. Those at highest risk are individuals who are allergic to bee stings and pets that are penned or tied up near honey bee hives. Check your property regularly for bee colonies. Honey bees nest in a wide variety of places, especially Africanized honey bees. Check animal burrows, water meter boxes, overturned flower pots, trees and shrubs. Keep pets and children indoors when using weed eaters, hedge clippers, tractor power mowers, chain saws, etc. Attacks frequently occur when a person is mowing the lawn or pruning shrubs and inadvertently strikes a nest. Avoid excessive motion when near a colony. Bees are much more likely to respond to an object in motion than a stationary one.

What to do if you are attacked:

  • Run as quickly as you can away from the bees. Do not flail or swing your arms, as this may further annoy them.
  • Because bees target the head and eyes, cover your head as much as you can without slowing your escape.
  • Get to the shelter as quickly as possible.

Some symptoms of an allergic reaction include:

  • Burning pain and itching at the bite site
  • Itching on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet
  • Itching on the neck and the groin
  • General body swelling
  • A nettle like rash over the entire body
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Faintness, weakness
  • Nausea
  • Shock Unconsciousness

When to call the Fire Department:

  • Call the fire department only when emergency medical services are needed. If someone has been stung by many bees at once or has an allergic reaction to a bee sting, call 9-1-1.
  • Call the fire department if someone has become trapped in a building or car with lots of bees. Fire trucks are equipped with foam that can be sprayed on the bees to drown them.
  • DO NOT call the fire department to remove bee colonies or hives. If you want bees removed, look in the yellow pages under "bee removal" or "beekeepers."

 If a person is stung:

  • Keep the affected area below the heart
  • If the sting was by a bee and the stinger is still in the skin, remove it by gently scraping against it with your fingernail, a credit card or a knife. Be careful not to squeeze the stinger. The venom sac still will be attached and you will inject additional venom into the area. Be sure to remove the venom sac
  • Apply cold compresses to relieve pain and swelling, but do not apply ice directly
  • If it becomes difficult to breathe, call 9-1-1
  • Itching should quit within a few hours. If it persists beyond two days, or if signs and symptoms of an allergic reaction occur after an insect bite you should be seen by a doctor

Snakes - Thousands of people are bitten by snakes every year in the United States. More than half of the venomous snakebites involve children, and most occur between April and October. Snakes can be found along hiking trails, debris piles and in shady spots during the hot summer months. Rattlesnake bites account for a majority of the fatalities. Symptoms generally occur immediately, but only about one third of all bites manifest symptoms. Snakebite venom contains some of the most complex toxins known; venoms can affect the central nervous system, brain, heart, kidneys, and blood. A venomous bite consists of one or two distinct puncture wounds. Nonvenomous snakes usually leave a series of small, shallow puncture wounds because they have teeth instead of fangs. The exception is the coral snake, which leaves a semicircular marking from its teeth. Because some venomous snakes also have teeth, fang and teeth marks may be apparent. The presence of teeth marks does not rule out a venomous bite, but the presence of fang marks always confirms a venomous snakebite.

Some symptoms may include:

  • Immediate and severe burning pain and swelling around the fang marks, usually within five minutes The entire extremity generally swells within eight to 36 hours
  • Purplish discoloration around the bite, usually developing within two to three hours
  • Numbness and possible blistering around the bite, generally within several hours
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid heartbeat, low blood pressure, weakness and fainting
  • Numbness and tingling of the tongue and mouth
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fever and chills
  • Muscular twitching
  • Convulsions
  • Dimmed vision
  • Headache


Move the patient away from the snake to prevent repeated bites.

  • Have the patient lie down and keep quiet
  • Cut and suck methods are useless
  • Keep the bitten extremity at the level of the heart
  • Remove any jewelry that could impede circulation if swelling occurs
  • Clean the wound gently with alcohol, soap and water, hydrogen peroxide or other mild antiseptic
  • Do not cool, chill or apply ice
  • Do not attempt to tie any type of tourniquet or constricting bands. Transport the patient as soon as possible to the hospital