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Stings, Bites and Scratches – Animals and Creatures You Should Avoid Whilst Travelling

The last thing you want when embarking on a holiday abroad is to have an unfortunate run in with a venomous animal; not only do you run the risk of cutting your holiday short, but in some cases you may even be at risk of losing your life! But don't panic; there's no need to cancel your long-awaited holiday plans; we've compiled the information below to keep you informed at put your mind at rest!

The commonly known venomous animals of...



USA and the Caribbean


South America

What happens if I get stung/bitten/scratched whilst travelling?

Should you find yourself in the unlucky position of being envenomed by an animal while abroad, the course of action to take is as simple as it is logical. In most cases you will be well aware of such a sting/bite/scratch immediately after it's administrated; if you even suspect that the creature that has attacked you is venomous, it's definitely better to be safe than sorry.

In some rare cases, the sting, bite or scratch may not have been immediately apparent (you may have been asleep at the time, for example). If this is the case, as soon as symptoms alert you to the possibility of envenomation, also follow the steps set out below, as a precautionary measure.

Get away from the venomous creature; the fewer stings, bites or scratches that you receive, the better your odds of reducing long-term damage.  Do not attempt to catch or kill the creature that injured you.

Where should I pay extra attention?

In the sea

Some areas of the ocean are particularly prone to incursions from venomous jellyfish and/or fish; and therefore require additional caution when being enjoyed during your holiday. Always check with locals, or tourist information centres, as to what perils may or may not be present in the oceans around your chosen destination. Venomous creatures could either be floating free in the area, or secreted on the sea bed, increasing the risk of accidental contact massively.

When scuba diving or snorkelling, always consult a dive guide as to what dangers you should expect and keep an eye out for.

In the wild

The advice here is essentially the same as with the sea; some areas of country may be more likely to contain venomous creatures than others; knowledge is power here, so consult those in the know as to what you should be looking out for on your travels.

As with diving and snorkelling, if you intend to go on longer trips and excursions into the wild, it may well be worth hiring or consulting a local guide, in order to minimise potential threats to your person.

At night

Due to the propensity for many venomous creatures to hide when in close proximity to humans, it pays to carefully check the nooks and crannies of your hotel room/apartment/house in the evenings, to ensure that the place that you intend to nap or sleep doesn't also house a dangerous, animal. You'd be upset if someone sat on, or fell asleep on you; and a venomous creature may well express said misgivings through a scratch, bite or sting!

To paraphrase a popular term; prevention is better than cure. Spending a few minutes carefully checking your residence for hidden venomous creatures is always preferable to rushing to hospital!

What precautions can I take to minimise the risk?

Common sense is the main thing here, very few venomous animals will actively attack human beings; venom is used while hunting, or in self-defence, and humans are considered prey by an extremely small number of animals. This leaves self-defence as the general reason for venomous animals to attack holidaymakers; if you refrain from antagonising animals, you'll be able to avoid their venom.

Of course, it is entirely possible to antagonise an animal without actually being aware of it; surprising a snake, or accidentally sitting on a spider, are likely to result in the agitated beasty lashing out. Unfortunately, many smaller venomous animals tend to hide in dark nooks and crannies around domiciles and tourist attractions; underneath toilet seats, in piles of cushions and tucked away in the corners of coral reefs. This not only increases the likelihood of accidental contact with humans, but the surprise of the animal in question; increasing the odds of a venomous attack.

With this in mind, knowledge and caution are the key ingredients to avoiding an unfortunate encounter with some of nature's most dangerous creatures. Make sure you read up on the species you're likely to encounter at your destination; and ensure that you approach the likely haunts of dangerous creatures with a sufficient level of caution. Should you actually encounter a venomous creature, the safest bet is to leave it alone, and contact local animal control should it be impeding you. Attempting to move the creature yourself could anger or scare it enough to attempt to strike; caution in these cases is always advised over courage. Of course, if you are able to simply leave the creature where it is, this would be the most preferable option.

How do I identify what animal it was?

Ideally speaking, you'd be able to provide emergency responders, or venom specialists, with an accurate physical description of the animal which envenomed or scratched you; but due to the traumatic circumstances, or the fact that you may not have seen your attacker, this may not always be possible.

It's therefore imperative that you keep as accurate a record as possible of the physical symptoms that you suffer, as well as the circumstance that led to the injury. This information, when combined with knowledge of the area in which the injury occurred, should give those caring for you the best chance of treating you with the correct antivenom, saving your life and mitigating permanent injury.

What are the effects?

This can vary massively from venom to venom; some cause paralysis or other related nerve damage, while others impede a victim's cardiac function; with high doses ultimately resulting in cardiac arrest. It's important to note that being envenomed by an animal is by no means a guarantee of imminent fatality; the dosage and variety of venom are both important factors.

As you would no doubt guess, the greater the amount of venom, the greater the potential risk to your person; but many venoms carry no real threat of human fatality. This isn't to say that exposure to non-lethal venom should be taken lightly; just that fatality isn't always a risk. Non-treatment of an envenomed patient could still result in permanent injury, or even the loss of extremities; death is far from the only potential risk!

Can they all be treated?

The comprehensive treatment of any form of venom generally relies on the presence of antivenom; a substance created by injecting lab animals with a specific venom, and extracting the chemicals metabolised in response. The only potential hazard with antivenom is that repeated uses can lead to a patient developing immunity to their effect; meaning that they are no longer a useful response.

It's unfortunately an urban legend that sucking venom from the wound is helpful, or necessarily achievable. Many medical professionals now think that such an action may make the situation worse; don't always believe what you see in films! Other 'traditional treatments' like pouring alcohol on the wound, or attempting to cool the injured area with ice, can also result in further injury; stick to contacting your travel insurance's emergency medical helpline in these kinds of situations abroad.

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