Soothing the
Scorpion's Sting

By David Von Behren, MPH

The encounter usually is unexpected, immediately unpleasant and potentially dangerous. A scorpion's sting is a common and painful marker at the crossroads of people and creatures in Arizona. As more desert areas are developed, more people are bound to suffer the stinging wrath of scorpions.

Each year, thousands of scorpion encounters are reported to the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center, a Center of Excellence at the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy. Most cases don't require serious medical attention, but for very young children, there can be real danger.

Worldwide and particularly across the border in Mexico, the danger is much greater. More than 100,000 people are stung in Mexico each year and hundreds die. Now, the Poison Center, Bioclon, a Mexican pharmaceutical company, and Orphan Pharmaceuticals U.S., are working to promote a new treatment.

A scorpion anti-venom already is available in the United States, but it has not proven ideal in many cases, and it does not have approval from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), says Jude McNally, RPh, ABAT, managing director of the Poison Center. But a scorpion anti-venom developed by Bioclon has been used with good success in treating stings from scorpion species prevalent south of the border. The new anti-venom also has far fewer side effects than other scorpion sting treatments.


Richard A. Wagner, MD, PhD

Collaborating with the National University of Mexico, McNally and Leslie Boyer, MD, medical director of the Poison Center, learned that the Bioclon anti-venom also appears to work in treating Bark Scorpion stings. Of the 30 scorpion species found in Arizona, the Bark Scorpion is the only one that can deliver a potentially lethal sting.

"The Red Cross has saved thousands of lives in Mexico by using the Bioclon anti-venom. All indications are that it will prove effective in treating stings from scorpion species found in Arizona," says McNally.

To bring the treatment to the United States for further research, Orphan Pharmaceuticals U.S., with the help of the Poison Center, has applied to the FDA to test it. The process could take several years, but the end result may offer a safer and more effective treatment option for victims of scorpion stings in the United States. FDA approval also will help Bioclon in sharing their product with the rest of the world.

Sting Stats

Centruroides exilicauda, or the Bark Scorpion (pictured above), is distinguished from other less toxic species by its more slender tail segments and pincers. Reaching only an inch and a half at maturity, it is a comparatively small scorpion. Scorpions are relatively inactive during the daylight hours with the majority of scorpion stings occurring at night during the warm summer months.

Scorpion stings can cause immediate local pain with minimal swelling. Numbness and tingling are frequently reported. The majority of stings occurring in healthy young adults may be managed at home with basic first aid measures: cleaning the site with soap and water, cool compress, elevating the affected limb to approximately heart level, and taking aspirin or Tylenol as needed for minor discomfort.

Small children are at highest risk. They can show "roving eye" symptoms and hyperactivity. Stings occurring in children or any patient experiencing severe symptoms should be seen at a health care facility immediately. More information about scorpions and other venomous creatures is available through the Poison Center website at: www.pharmacy.arizona.edu.

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