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Hot summer nights mean scurrying scorpions

Over 1,000 stings already reported in 2011

Summer in Southern Arizona means things shake and buzz. From monsoon clouds with their thunder and lightning, to rattlesnake tails, nature can reach out and grab you.

But there's another, more silent sting that awaits the unwary: summer heat also brings out Arizona's scorpions.

Over 1,000 scorpion stings have been recorded so far this year by the Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center, which serves the entire state outside Maricopa County.

"We've have more than 280 stings in June alone, and nearly 700 since April 1, when 'sting season' unofficially begins," said Dr. Keith Boesen, managing director of the poison center, in a press release.

In 2010, the center—part of the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy—recorded 2,535 stings.

While scorpion stings are not always serious and usually do not need any special medical attention, they often cause a tremendous amount of pain. Some scorpion stings do cause life-threatening reactions.

The effects of a scorpion sting can vary from a couple of minutes to a couple of days. Numbness, another effect from a sting, can also last a number of hours to several days.

A serious scorpion sting can cause drooling, uncontrollable eye movements, uncontrollable jerking and difficulty breathing, because the central nervous system is affected, said Dr. Mazda Shirazi, medical director of the poison center, in the release.

"Severe symptoms are a result of the scorpion's venom really disrupting the person's nervous system," said Shirazi. "Although we have not had a reported death from a scorpion sting in many years, some stings can be life-threatening."

While adults sometimes require emergency medical attention, young children are the most at risk of severe reactions to scorpion stings, Shirazi said.

Scorpion antivenom now available in Arizona has had positive results through five years of testing, Shirazi said.

The antivemom "can save hours and even days of hospitalization for both children and adults, countering the severe effects of the sting very quickly."

The center advised that those stung should call 1-800-222-1222 and tell the poison specialists about their symptoms. The  center offers free, confidential information 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

To lessen the effects of a non-serious scorpion sting, Boesen suggested washing the site of the sting, taking pain killers such as aspirin or Tylenol and applying a cool compress or ice pack to the area. 

Because scorpion stings can cause numbness, using an ice pack for up to 10 minutes can be effective, Boesen said. Leaving an ice pack on the area for longer than 10 minutes may cause your skin to freeze, and the lack of feeling caused by the sting can make that more likely.

Don't use ice if it causes pain, Boesen said.

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Arizona Poison & Drug Information Center

Scorpion facts

  • Out of the 30 different species of scorpions in Arizona, only the bark scorpion holds venom that is potentially life-threatening.
  • An adult bark scorpion, light tan colored, is sometimes mistaken for being a "baby" due to its 1.5-inch long body.
  • Bark scorpions may hide in places where it is dark and cool, such as closets, toy bins and shoes.
  • Scorpions are relatively inactive during daylight. The majority of stings reported to the poison center occur at night during warm summer months.
  • To protect yourself from getting stung by a scorpion, check inside your shoes before putting them on and shake clothing and bedding to ensure a scorpion is not hidden inside.
  • Scorpions only sting if you step, sit on, touch, or come near to them. They don't attack people.
  • Scorpions sting from their tail, not from their mouth. That is why it is called a scorpion sting, not a scorpion bite.
  • Because scorpions are naturally fluorescent, you can use an ultraviolet or "black" light to find them inside your home.
  • Bark scorpions are agile enough to climb walls or furniture legs. You may want to protect infants from stings by placing the legs of cribs inside glass containers, which scorpions can't climb.
  • To protect your home from scorpions, seal up gaps in your home into which the edge of a credit card can fit.