Bites and stings

Disclaimer: This fact sheet is for education purposes only. Please consult with your doctor or other health professional to make sure this information is right for your child.

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In Australia there are many insects, spiders and snakes that bite and sting. This fact sheet provides information on the basic treatment of common bites and stings in Australia. For more information about how to manage bites and stings contact the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26.

First Aid

Most bites and stings are not life threatening, but may cause mild pain, redness and/or itching. For most bites and stings the following first aid treatment will help ease a child’s discomfort.

  • Wash the area with soap and water and keep it clean and dry
  • Apply ice (wrapped in a thin cotton cloth) or cool running water to reduce the swelling and relieve the pain.
  • Seek advice from the Poisons Information Centre 13 11 26
  • If your child is having difficulty breathing, is unconscious or fitting, call an ambulance on 000.

More detailed first aid advice is given below for bites and stings from:

  1. Bee, wasps & ants
  2. Blue Bottle
  3. Blue Ringed Octopus
  4. Scorpion and Centipede
  5. Snake
  6. Spiders
  7. Tick

Bees, Wasps & Ants

A bee, wasp or ant sting can cause pain and/or swelling.  Some people may have an allergic reaction to the sting, which may causing a rash, vomiting, collapse or difficulty in breathing. Seek medical attention straight away if an allergic reaction occurs.

First Aid treatment:

  • Remove the sting by pulling it out or scraping it away; you may need tweezers, a credit card or something firm.
  • Wash the area with water and keep the area clean and dry.
  • Apply ice or cool running water to reduce the swelling and to relieve the pain (do not apply ice to the eye).
  • Seek medical attention straight away if any reaction occurs.
  • If a person has been stung more than five times seek medical attention.

Blue Bottles

Most stings are painful. Blue bottle stings leave a whip-like, red, wavy line on the skin from the tentacle. Allergic reactions are possible.

First Aid treatment:

  • Clear away the tentacles.
  • Immerse or wash the sting area in hot water for 20 minutes, for pain relief. A hot shower up to 45°C may be used. First check that the water temperature is not too hot and BEWARE of burns.
  • If hot water is not available or does not relieve pain, then apply ice or cool running water
  • Seek advice from the Poisons Information Centre 13 11 26 or your local doctor if pain continues.

Blue-ringed octopus

 

The blue-ringed octopus bite is very venomous. A bite can cause paralysis, and the person may stop breathing.

First Aid Treatment:

  • Apply a very firm bandage around the bite and then apply a second bandage over the whole limb. Ensure that the bandage is not too tight and cutting off the circulation.
  • Call 000 for an ambulance or take the patient to a hospital as quickly as possible.
  • If the person stops breathing, they will need cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR).

Scorpions and centipedes

In Australia scorpions and centipedes are not venomous, however, a painful, itchy swelling may occur.

First Aid treatment:

  • Apply ice or cool running water to relieve the pain.
  • Seek advice from the Poisons Information Centre 13 11 26 or your local doctor if pain continues.

Snakes

There are many venomous snakes in Australia. Most bites do not result in death however all bites should be treated as potentially dangerous. Seek immediate medical assistance for all cases of suspected snake bites.

First Aid treatment:

  • Apply a firm bandage around the bite and then apply a second bandage over the whole limb. Ensure that the bandage is not too tight and cutting off the circulation.
  • Use a splint to keep the whole limb still (that is, immobilise the affected limb).
  • Keep the person still and do not move them from their position.
  • Call an ambulance (000) to take the person to the nearest hospital.
  • Try to notice the colour and markings on the snake but DO NOT try to catch or handle it. DO NOT wash the bitten area as the venom on the skin may be used to identify the snake.

 

Spiders

There are many different types of spiders in Australia that can bite people, and these bites can cause a reaction at the site of the bite.

The only venomous species in Australia are the Red-Back Spider and the Funnel Web Spider (FWS).  The FWS can be difficult to distinguish from other big black spiders.   

Red Back Spider

The red-back spider is found throughout Australia. The female red back spider has a red/ orange stripe on its back while the male is very small, usually with no stripe. A red back spider bite may result in pain, redness and sweating at the bite site

First Aid treatment:

  • Wash the area with soap and water and apply an antiseptic if available.
  • Apply ice or cool running water to relieve pain.
  • Seek advice from the Poisons Information Centre 13 11 26 or your local doctor if pain continues. If severe pain occurs, the patient needs to be taken to the nearest hospital.

Big Black Spiders and Funnel-Web Spiders

Many Australian spiders that are large and black can resemble the highly venomous funnel-web spider (FWS). A bite from this spider can be very dangerous. A FWS bite will usually cause severe pain, sweating, nausea and vomiting, drooling, difficulty in breathing, muscle twitching and confusion.

First Aid treatment for all big black spider bites:

  • Apply a very firm bandage around the bite and then apply a second bandage over the whole limb. Ensure that the bandage is not too tight and cutting off the circulation.
  • Use a splint to keep the whole limb still (that is, immobilise the affected limb).
  • Keep the person still.
  • Call an ambulance (000) to take the person to the nearest hospital.

 

Ticks

Common bush ticks or scrub ticks are often found on people. Ticks bury themselves in the skin and scalp. Some Australian ticks release a venom into the blood. Symptoms may include headache, blurred vision, weak limbs and unsteady walking. These symptoms may start a few days after a tick bite.

First Aid treatment:

  • Use a pair of tweezers to remove the tick. Hold the tick firmly as close to the skin as possible, and pull, ensuring that the whole tick is removed at the one time. Seek medical advice if you are not sure that the whole tick has been removed, or if the person is unwell.
  • Wash the area with soap and water and keep the area clean and dry.
  • Seek advice from the Poisons Information Centre 13 11 26 if any symptoms occur. 

First aid courses

It is very important to know what to do in an emergency. First aid can save lives and prevent serious injuries. For information about first aid and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) courses in your local area contact:

Australian Red Cross Society
Tel: (02) 9229 4111

St John Ambulance
Tel: (02) 9212 1088.

Remember

  • Keep a first aid kit at home and in the car
  • Save the Poisons Information Centre phone number in your mobile phone 13 11 26
  • More information at www.poisonsinfo.nsw.gov.au
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The Children's Hospital at Westmead
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Sydney Children's Hospital, Randwick
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Hunter New England Kids Health
www.hnekidshealth.nsw.gov.au

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