How to treat bites and stings

If this is an emergency, please call 000 immediately.

What is a bite and/or sting?

In a medical emergency call triple zero (000) for an ambulance.

A bite is when an insect (like a mosquito, flea, or bedbug) uses its mouth to break a person's skin, usually so it can feed. Insect bites usually itch.

A sting is when an insect uses another body part, such as a barbed stinger at its tail end, to pierce the skin and inject venom (like a poison)*.

This guide is regularly updated and aligns with the current edition of Australian First Aid (4th edition, 7/2011)

What to do

Pressure bandaging and immobilisation

Suitable for any snake bite (including sea snakes), funnel-web spider and mouse spider bites, blue-ringed octopus bite, cone shell sting.

If the bite or sting is on a limb, apply a broad pressure bandage (crepe preferred) over the bite site.

 

Apply a firm heavy crepe or elasticised roller bandage (10–15 centimetres wide) starting just above the fingers or toes, and moving upwards on the bitten limb as far as can be reached.

Apply the bandage as tightly as possible to the limb.

 

Immobilise the bandaged limb using splints.

 

Seek medical aid.

 

Vinegar

Suitable for box jellyfish; Irukandji, morbakka and jimble jellyfish, or other tropical jellyfish sting.

Immediately flood the entire stung area with lots of vinegar for at least 30 seconds. DO NOT use fresh water.

If pain relief is required, apply a cold pack only after vinegar has been applied.

 

Urgently seek medical aid at a hospital if symptoms are severe.

 

Hot water

Suitable for bluebottle and other nontropical jellyfish stings; stinging fish (eg stonefish, lionfish, bullrout); stingray, crown-of-thorns starfish, sea urchin. DO NOT use on suspected box jellyfish or Irukandji stings.

Check the water to ensure it is as hot as you can comfortably tolerate before treating the patient.

Place the stung area in hot water for 20 minutes—help patient under a hot shower, place a stung hand or foot in hot water, or pour hot water over the stung area. Do not burn the patient.

Remove briefly before reimmersing.

 

Continue this cycle if pain persists.

 

Urgently seek medical aid at a hospital if symptoms are severe.

Cold pack

Suitable for red-back spider or other spider bite; bee, wasp or ant sting; tick bite; scorpion or centipede sting; jellyfish sting.

Apply a cold pack to the bitten or stung area for 15 minutes and reapply if pain continues.

 

The cold pack should be changed when necessary to maintain the same level of coldness.

 

Seek medical aid if the pain worsens.

 

Resources

Bites and stings fact sheet

DRSABCD poster

Related advice

Snake bite

All known or suspected snake bites must be treated as potentially life-threatening, and medical aid should be sought urgently. Learn more with this fact guide.

Spider bite

Here is a handy fact sheet and action plan for dealing with different types of spider bites.

Bat bites and scratches

Anyone who is either bitten or scratched by a bat should immediately wash the wound thoroughly and seek medical assistance, regardless of severity.

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