Marine Bite or Sting

You’re most likely to contact biting or stinging marine life while swimming or wading in saltwater. These include jellyfish and coral, as well as sculpins, stingrays, and many other kinds of fish. Most don’t attack people. But they may bite or sting if they are stepped on or touched. Even a dead jellyfish can release poison (venom) when handled. In North America, most marine animal bites or stings aren’t deadly. But they can be painful. They can be serious if the wound is deep, becomes infected, or causes an allergic reaction.

Your injury will be cleaned and examined. Bite or puncture wounds are often not closed with stitches. A jellyfish sting may be rinsed with sterile saline solution or vinegar. This prevents more toxins from being released. Applying heat to the area may also help accomplish this task. Any tentacles left in your skin will be removed. It's better to remove them after inactivating them so they don't release more toxin when handled. If stingray barbs are present, they need to be removed. If you have an allergic reaction that is severe, you may be given a steroid medicine to help control it. If you are in pain, medicine may be prescribed to make you more comfortable. Blood tests, ultrasound, wound culture, or X-rays may be done to check for other injuries or signs of infection. Treatment will depend on the location and severity of the wound.

Home care

Your healthcare provider may prescribe medicines to help ease pain and prevent infection. Follow your provider's instructions for taking these medicines. If antibiotics have been prescribed, finish all of the medicine until it is gone, even if you feel better.

General care

  • Wash your hands with soap and warm water before and after caring for the wound.

  • Clean the wound with mild soap and water and pat dry. Do this as often as instructed by the provider.

  • Watch for signs of infection, including fever, increasing pain, redness, or pus (discharge).

  • If bleeding occurs, apply gentle, even pressure.

  • Cover the wound with a new, clean bandage. Apply the bandage snugly, but not too tight. Keep the bandage clean and dry.

  • Get plenty of rest and fluids.

  • To prevent future stings, never handle any marine life. Even dead jellyfish on the beach can cause stings.  

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised.

When to get medical advice

Call your healthcare provider or get medical care right away if any of these occur:

  • Swelling of the affected body part, hands, or face

  • A feeling that there is something in the wound

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your provider

  • Signs of infection, including increasing pain, increasing redness or swelling, or discharge from the wound

  • Numbness or tingling in the area of the wound

  • Pain that does not get better after taking medicine, or gets worse

  • Your wound isn’t healing 

Call 911

Call 911 if any of these occur:

  • Trouble breathing

  • Generalized itching

  • Your wound doesn’t stop bleeding even after pressure is applied

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