What happens when you’re bited by a centipede?

Centipede bites are rare in humans but can cause mild to moderate pain when they do happen. Many people may experience severe symptoms or allergic venom reactions from the centipede, but these only occur rarely.

Unless the person experiences a severe allergic reaction, a centipede bite won’t require treatment. Anti-itch and pain relieving drugs can help to soothe the symptoms of a person.

The symptoms usually resolve within a couple of hours or days, and the probability of any long-term effects is small.

We address the possible symptoms and treatments of a centipede bite in this article, as well as the outlook for a person who receives one. Centipede bites are also compared with millipede bites.

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Effects of a bite

While people use the word “bite,” in fact a centipede does not use its mouthparts to harm the skin. If a centipede feels threatened, it will pierce his prey’s skin with the pincer-like tips of the legs closest to the eyes, called forcipules.

The bite looks like two red marks on the skin which, due to the location of the centipede forcipules, form a V-shape.

People rarely experience serious symptoms from a bite of a centipede.

Some possible effects of a bite of one centipede include:

  • localized pain
  • swelling and redness
  • bleeding
  • itchiness or burning
  • numbness, tingling, and tenderness
  • hardening of the skin
  • throbbing
  • red streaks on the skin
  • localized infection
  • tissue death
  • swelling of the lymph nodes

In extremely rare cases, there have been reports of more severe symptoms, such as:

  • lack of oxygen to the heart muscle
  • heart attack
  • blood in the urine
  • hemoglobin in the urine
  • rhabdomyolysis, which is the break down of damaged skeletal muscle tissue
  • excessive bleeding
  • skin infections

Anaphylactic shock

Some people may get an allergic reaction to a bite of one hundredfold. Researchers in Thailand described a situation where a 23-year-old man suffered anaphylactic shock— a severe allergic reaction— after bitting him by a centipede.

An allergic reaction may occur within minutes of a bite being taken. Some signs of a severe response include:

  • facial swelling
  • generalized hives and rash on the skin
  • chest discomfort
  • loss of consciousness or responsiveness
  • severely low blood pressure, called hypotension

Centipede venom

When a person bites a hundredfold they inject venom into the skin. The venom production occurs in a gland in the forcipule. Centipedes inject venom into their prey for defense and defence. Sometimes, a human might feel the centipede threatened.

Researchers have isolated more than 500 components of centipede venom but only a few of these have been identified.

Some of the components include hormones, such as serotonin and histamine, which occur naturally in the brain. Researchers note that usually, these substances do not cause neurological effects in humans.

Neurological symptoms (rare)

Some people can rarely report the following neurological symptoms from a bite of one centipede:

  • headaches
  • anxiety
  • dizziness
  • the feeling of losing consciousness

After a centipede bite, a few people reported euphoric feelings, psychological effects and memory disturbances.

Scientists will continue studying centipede bites to establish how the various components of centipede venom affect humans.

Treatment

Persons may be frightened when a centipede bites them, both because of the bite pain and the multi-legged creature’s presence. Nonetheless, a person will not need to seek medical attention in most situations, because a bite of centipede is rarely serious.

If a person is seeing a doctor, the doctor may suggest that treatments be used to soothe the pain, itchiness and skin swelling. The symptoms, nonetheless, tend to resolve themselves within a few hours, or at most a few days.

Many people may need a pain reliever, like acetaminophen, or an anti-inflammatory, like ibuprofen, for example. Cortisone cream and antihistamines can also help reduce allergy symptoms.

If a person has a severe allergic reaction to a bite of one centipede, such as an anaphylactic shock, they need immediate medical attention. Physicians treat anaphylactic shock with:

  • epinephrine
  • intravenous fluids
  • intravenous antihistamine

If someone experiences anaphylactic shock, auto-injectors with epinephrine, such as an EpiPen, can reduce the symptoms and prevent death. However, as centipede bites are uncommon, a person may not know they’re allergic to centipede venom until a bite is given. As a result, they may not have an auto-injector for the epinephrine.

Outlook

Persons with centipede bites in the affected area can experience local reactions, but the symptoms typically resolve within a few hours to a few days.

In some cases, underlying conditions will affect a person’s outlook with a bite of centipede. People with diabetes, for example, may experience more severe skin reactions and infections following a bite of one hundred per cent.

In cases of anaphylactic shock, if a person receives timely treatment, clinical signs will likely improve without long-term consequences. Doctors may prescribe an auto-injector with epinephrine and recommend avoiding centipedes.

Millipede bites

Millipedes protect themselves by secreting a toxic fluid on the side in their body from glands. The liquid is having a corrosive effect on the skin, and people in the affected area can feel burning and redness. Doctors can prescribe antibiotics and topical pain relievers if necessary.

Immediately after exposure to the millipede toxin washing the area with soap and water may help reduce symptoms.

Sometimes the toxic liquid can cause a change of local skin colour. The affected area may turn brown or black, and this change in color can last for months.

Eyes

People who are getting the toxic liquid in their eyes from a millipede can experience more severe effects. Ulcers may grow on the cornea, or may infect the eye. If this occurs, people should meet with an ophthalmologist for treatment. Treatment may include following:

  • eye irrigation
  • fluorescein staining
  • topical antibiotics
  • cycloplegic drugs

Summary

Centipedes rarely bite humans, but this is generally because they feel threatened when they do.

After a centipede bite, most people will experience only short-term pain, skin irritation and redness. Many people may however be resistant to the venom that is injected into the skin by the centipede.

Unless the person experiences a severe allergic reaction, a centipede bite usually requires no medical attention.

Pain relievers and anti-itch medications may be helpful in easing a centipede bite’s pain. The bite’s symptoms usually go away within a few hours to a few days.

Usually, centipede bites don’t have long lasting results.

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