Treating aquatic life injuries

With the summer season almost here many of us will spend more time enjoying the ocean and beautiful marine life surrounding our island. With this in mind (and by overwhelming request) we are going to begin a series of articles focused on understanding and treating aquatic life injuries.

Injuries from marine animals can be divided into two groups; shallow penetration wounds such as jellyfish, fire coral and hydroid stings, and deep penetration wounds caused by some species of fish and stingrays.


The stingray uses its stinger purely for self-defense and the process is triggered by a reflex if the animal is frightened or handled roughly. Photo: File

We will begin this series by looking at injuries associated with an animal we all know (and most of us love) here in Cayman, the Southern Stingray.

As many of us already know stingrays are gentle, affectionate animals if handled properly. However they can deliver a nasty sting if they are handled incorrectly. The stingray’s caudal fin or tail is equipped with a stinging apparatus consisting of a barbed spine and an integumentary sheath containing venom glands.

The stingray uses its stinger purely for self-defense and the process is triggered by a reflex if the animal is frightened or handled roughly (most stings to humans occur when the stingray is stepped on).

In many cases victims receive a ‘dry sting’ whereby the barbed spine lightly penetrates the skin. There is no venom delivery and only mild to moderate pain.

If the spine penetrates the skin far enough the barbs will take hold causing the integumentary sheath to tear and release venom into the wound. Stingray venom consist mainly of serotonin (a chemical that if injected causes immediate severe pain), and two enzymes that cause ‘necrosis’ or tissue breakdown. Subsequent bacterial infections are also common.

Stingray stings should be treated as a medical emergency. Assess the scene for possible hazards, don barriers (gloves) and activate EMS. Keep the patient still and at rest and treat for shock if necessary. Control any visible bleeding (if a blood vessel is pierced apply hard direct pressure over the wound).

Immerse the area in very hot (but not scalding) water for up to 90 minutes. This should quickly reduce pain. If severe pain persists after immersion apply a cold compress to the wound. Clean the affected area with soap and water and apply a local antiseptic if available.

Monitor the patient’s lifeline (ABCDs) until EMS arrives or patient is transported to medical assistance.

This column is only an introduction to emergency care skills and is designed to increase interest in First-Aid/CPR training. For information on courses please contact the Red Cross, a medical professional, or a local dive shop.

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