Stung by a Centipede

straw centipede art
(To the creature that hurt me)

What happened?

Over the Raya weekend, I went camping with a few friends at a nearby campsite. The site had a river running alongside, as well as some pondoks with basic plumbing and electrical amenities. After a dip in the river, I was having lunch at one of the pondoks, completely unaware of the “thing” that had crawled underneath my shirt onto my back, until it suddenly stung me on the upper left part of my back! Shocked and in pain, I immediately stood up and tried to fling whatever it was away, but failed to see any result. Unconvinced that the “thing” had left my body, I removed my outer shirt and asked my friends to have a look at my back. They looked and couldn’t find anything, when suddenly… “ouch!”, it stung me a second time, this time on the lower right part of my back!

Finally, someone spotted “it”, and asked me to freeze and raise my right hand. A dark blue centipede around the size of my index finger (7cm length x 0.7cm width) crawled to the front of my body on my dark grey bikini. I let out a high-pitched “ahhh”, panicked and quickly flung it away with my hands. Success! But I had no idea where it went. Perhaps my imagination was the scarier part – it’s still out there, it could be anywhere!

When we were certain that my body was cleared of any creepy crawlies, we went to treat the wounds (5 to be exact) at the campsite. The excruciating pain began to settle in. It felt extremely sore, stingy, bruised and burnt. Doing anything required of the muscles around my upper back, such as breathing, was painful. Among my friends were outdoor and medical experts, and they remained calm. I, on the other hand was confused, because for the longest time, I thought that a centipede’s sting could lead to death, and I had not 1 but 5 of those.


Click on “Open photo” for the sting site (bite marks)

straw centipede sting

straw centipede sting

straw centipede sting

Open photo

 


After cleaning the wounds with alcohol wipes, applying cream for bites, covering with plasters, swallowing 1 antihistamine and 2 panadols, and waiting for an hour, the pain still persisted. We didn’t have ice packs, so we applied heat compress around the wound using hot water and towel for pain relief. It helped. Before bed, I took another antihistamine, and thankfully when I woke up the next morning, the pain was gone.

I was more frightened by the sight of the centipede crawling than of the pain itself. Creepy crawlies are my biggest fear followed by heights. I had a phobia of that particular seat, and believed it was “cursed” (jokes), because the next day a friend was scratched by a cat while having a peaceful breakfast. Though, I managed to face my fear by visiting and having a couple of meals at the pondok for the rest of the trip.


Wonder how the “thing” looked like? Click on “Face your fears” 

I repeat, it was 7cm long, 0.7cm wide. Not your typical smaller house centipedes found in the bathroom.

Borneo giant centipede (Scolopendra sp) in situ

By Arthur Anker


By Project Noah

Face your fears

 


After this episode will I still camp?

Er… Yeah, of course?!

Nature may hurt, but it’s usually physical. Humans on the other hand are worse, they crush one’s mind, spirit and soul merely with words.


Can centipedes kill humans?

Centipede bites are rare in humans, but when they do happen, they can cause mild-to-moderate pain. Anti-itch and pain-relieving medications can help soothe the symptoms, which typically disappear within 48 hours. There is a low risk of any long-term consequences. However, some people may experience severe symptoms, infections or allergic reactions from the centipede venom, which requires medical attention.

Possible symptoms:

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

In rare cases of more severe symptoms:

  • lack of oxygen to the heart muscle
  • heart attack
  • blood in the urine
  • break down of damaged skeletal muscle tissue (rhabdomyolysis)
  • excessive bleeding
  • skin infections

Anaphylactic shock – allergic reaction may occur within minutes of receiving a bite:

  • facial swelling
  • hives and rash on the skin
  • chest discomfort
  • loss of consciousness / responsiveness
  • severely low blood pressure (hypotension)

Neurological symptoms (rare)

  • headaches
  • anxiety
  • dizziness
  • the feeling of losing consciousness
  • euphoric feelings
  • psychological effects
  • memory disturbances

What to do when you’re “bitten” by a centipede?

Although people use the term “bite,” centipedes do not actually use their mouthparts to damage the skin. When a centipede feels threatened, it uses a pair of specially modified hollow front legs (forcipules) to pinch its prey and deliver venom to protect and defend itself. The sting/bite leaves a puncture wound that looks like two red marks on the skin, which form a V-shape due to the positioning of the forcipules.

Treat the sting site:

  1. Cleaning – Wash with soap and water / alcohol wipes
  2. Swelling – Use cold compresses
  3. Pain – Take an over-the-counter analgesic such as acetaminophen / ibuprofen
  4. Prevent infection – Tetanus shot and antibiotics
  5. Prevent allergy – Cortisone cream and antihistamines
  6. Infection – Seek medical attention
  7. Allergic reaction – Use EpiPen or similar device and seek medical attention

Home care:

  • Relieve symptoms / prevent infection – Take prescribed medicines according to instructions
  • Ease pain, swelling, and itching – Apply cold compress for 15 minutes at a time. Use a cool wet washcloth or crushed ice wrapped in a towel. Don’t put ice directly on the skin.
  • Some people may prefer warm compresses. Check the skin often, this may make symptoms worse in some cases
  • Check sting site daily for signs of infection
  • Check sting site daily for signs of allergic reaction

Seek medical advice:

  • Fever of 38°C or higher
  • Symptoms don’t go away or get worse
  • Signs of infection – Expanding swelling, increased redness or streaking, warmth, fever, bleeding, foul-smelling drainage, or pus
  • Signs of allergic reaction – Hives, itching, or rash; swelling of the lips, tongue, or throat; wheezing or trouble breathing; or lightheadedness, dizziness, or fainting

What attracts centipedes though?

Moisture, food, and shelter.

Centipedes are found in nearly every climate on earth, from tropical rainforests to deserts to the arctic, so no matter where you live, do watch out for them. Because their bodies do not retain water very well, they need to hide in dark, damp environments like under stones and boards, in crawlspaces and basements, and in rotten logs, or they’ll dry out and die.

Centipedes come out at night when their prey are most active. They primarily hunt smaller arthropods and insects such as silverfish, firebrats, spiders, carpet beetles, roaches, flies, and more, which help control household pests.

Prevention around the house:

  • Turn on the lights at night when approaching damp, cool areas, and protect hands and feet
  • Make your home less attractive to centipedes
  • Reduce other household insects
  • Dry any damp areas
  • Improve ventilation
  • Clean debris around the house
  • Move woodpile away from the house
  • Remove fallen leaves and vegetation outside
  • Clear out clutter in damp basements
  • Fill cracks and crevices in block walls and concrete floors
  • Ensure that doors and windows are tight-fitting and use weather stripping

(Sources: Medical News Today, Plunketts, Poison.org, Fairview.org)


I’ve no clue why this centipede chose me.

We can’t really avoid them in the wild.

Just be careful.

Whatever happens, stay calm and don’t panic.


Have you experienced any bad stings/bites? Do share tips with us on how you handled it in the comment below!

 

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