Something Just Bit You?

Was it a scorpion? A spider? A snake? The toxin experts at APDIC can tell you what to do

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Arizonans get into more trouble with poisonous creatures than do the residents of any other state. Authorities report 15,000 cases and phone calls yearly. The Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center (APDIC), part of the University of Arizona in Tucson, handles about half of them.

While many dangerous animals live around Tucson, a contributing cause of snake bites is machismo. Ninety percent of such bites to males over age 15 occur on an upper extremity. "That means you saw the snake, knew it was dangerous and did something stupid anyway," says Jude McNally, managing director of APDIC.

Take the man who was bitten on the lip by the rattlesnake. "The guy might say that the snake was just sitting on his chest and he sneezed and startled it," says McNally, "but we know that he was kissing the snake." And then there's Jamie Pierson of Oracle, Arizona, who picked up a diamondback rattlesnake and lived to tell about it. "As I started to put it down, I watched him move his head to the left just enough to hit my finger with one fang," says Jamie, who required 81 vials of antivenin (the norm is 20) and spent two months away from work.

In Arizona, scorpion stings far outnumber snake bites, although most scorpions are not dangerous. The exception is the potentially lethal bark species. Thanks to better treatment and more facilities, however, no known fatalities have resulted from scorpion stings in Arizona in 30 years.

For victims of bark scorpion stings and snake bites, APDIC's advice is simple: don't waste time with ice, drugs, newfangled suction devices, or the old cut-and-suck method — go to the nearest hospital immediately.

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