Centipedes are closely related to lobsters, shrimp, and crayfish. Their bodies are multi-segmented with a pair of legs for each body segment.
Centipedes are usually nocturnal, which means they come out to hunt their prey at night. While they are poisonous and eat insects and worms, they are not typically aggressive toward people. They usually do not bite humans, until they’re provoked.
Though most call it a bite, a centipede stings with its forcipules, which are modified legs with pincer-like tips located close to its head. The site of the bite contains two red markings in a V-shape because of the insect’s forcipules' arrangement. A bite can be very painful, especially larger centipede bites because they tend to deliver more poison.
Centipede venom contains numerous chemical substances, such as serotonin, histamine, and cardio-depressant toxin-S. Therefore, a bite may result in serious allergic reactions, as well as cardiovascular and neurological effects in people. However, the symptoms may resolve within a few hours to days and do not cause any long-term effects.
What are the symptoms of a centipede bite?
There are numerous varieties of centipedes, each with a different level of venom. Symptoms of a bite vary with the type and volume of venom injected into the body.
The general symptoms of a centipede bite may include:
- Pain at the site of the bite
- Redness and swelling
- Itching or burning sensation
- Tenderness, tingling, and numbness around the bite
- Enlargement of the lymph nodes
In very rare cases, severe symptoms have been reported, such as:
- Fever and chills
- Rapid heart rate
- Breathing difficulty
- Swollen throat
- Skin infections
An anaphylactic shock is a severe form of an allergic reaction, which may occur within a few minutes after getting bitten by a centipede. It could be life-threatening.
Symptoms of anaphylactic shock include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Swelling of the face and throat
- Widespread hives and skin rash
- Chest pain
- Increased heart rate
- Loss of consciousness or become unresponsive
- Hypotension (a sudden drop of blood pressure)
Neurological symptoms are very rare from a centipede bite, but may include:
How do you care for a centipede bite at home?
Uncomplicated centipede bites can be treated at home similarly to wasp and bee stings and other insect bites, such as from millipedes and scorpions, using the following steps:
- Wash the site of the bite and surrounding area immediately with soap and water.
- Place an ice pack wrapped with a cloth over the bite (do not put ice directly on the skin).
- Compress the area for 10 minutes, and then remove it and reapply after 10 minutes.
- Repeat this procedure until pain, swelling and irritation subside.
- Do not use a warm compress because it may worsen the symptoms.
- Check the puncture area for skin injury.
- Take over-the-counter medicine, such as antihistamines and anti-inflammatory drugs, to relieve pain, allergic reactions, and inflammation.
How is a centipede bite medically treated?
If symptoms caused by a centipede bite are mild to moderate, no active medical treatment is required, and symptoms may resolve on their own. Symptoms of a centipede bite may usually go away within 48 hours. If the bite does not heal or if there is an onset of severe allergic reactions, immediate medical attention is needed.
The doctor may administer a shot of tetanus toxoid fluid or prescribe antibiotics if any infection is suspected.
However, if experiencing severe symptoms, medical treatment is compulsory, otherwise, it may cause complications and death. The patient with severe allergic reactions, such as anaphylactic shock, may be treated with:
- Intravenous fluids
- Intravenous antihistamine
Bites from a centipede are quite rare, and studies note that there have been only six deaths caused by centipede bites in the United States between 1979 and 2001.
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Mount Sinai. Centipede. https://www.mountsinai.org/health-library/poison/centipede
National Capital Poison Center. Centipede Stings How Harmful Are They? https://www.poison.org/articles/are-centipede-stings-harmful-191
Science Direct. Centipede. https://www.sciencedirect.com/topics/biochemistry-genetics-and-molecular-biology/centipede
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