According to Laticia Pienaar, the communications officer at Tygerberg Hospital, the Poison Information Helpline of the Western Cape, which based at the hospital, managed 19 cases of scorpion stings in children under 12 last year. Only two of the cases were serious, she said.
South Africa is home to about 130 scorpion species and only two species (Parabuthus granulatus and Parabuthus transvaalicus) cause serious damage. The remainder of the scorpion species are relatively harmless to humans, although they can inflict quite a painful sting, she said.
Despite this low incidence, serious systemic effects such as respiratory failure can present a few hours after the sting. Most stings occurred in adults (70%) and in the warmer summer months, from October to March, with a peak in January and February.
Most scorpions avoid the hot sun and are active at night although the Parabuthus granulates species can be active hunters during the day.
The Parabuthus granulatus sting can cause a life-threatening envenoming, especially in children. In most cases the degree of severity is usually evident quite soon after the sting – 15 to 60 minutes – but occasionally can be delayed for up to six to eight hours.
Symptoms and signs of a severe sting include an abnormal sensation, typically tingling or pricking of the skin, like “pins and needles”; muscle pain and cramps; increased salivation; difficulty in swallowing; difficulty in walking; visual disturbances; and pronounced restlessness, which is very typical in children.
The Western Cape is home to the Parabuthus granulatus and not the Parabuthus transvaalicus. Victims stung by this scorpion should be hospitalised and given the anti-venom. The patients should be closely watched for signs of respiratory failure.
A recent study conducted by the poison centre, which received calls from all over South Africa, found that only 1.4% of the calls they managed involved a scorpion sting.
Only 0.3% of the calls involved serious scorpionism.
Identification of a scorpion is difficult and can often only be done by an expert. The rule of thumb is that scorpions with thick tails and slender pincers are more venomous than those with slender tails and large pincers. However, many scorpions with thick tails and slender pincers are not venomous.
The following tips should be kept in mind as we approach summer:
Put on your shoes when walking outside, especially after sunset;
Shake out shoes and clothes especially if they’ve been stored in a dark closet or bag;
If you’re moving rocks, equipment and boxes around your yard or garage, wear long pants, shoes, socks and gloves, and check underneath anything you’re moving;
If you or someone in your family has been stung by a scorpion, the first thing to do is seek medical attention;
You or your physician should contact the Poison Information Helpline of the Western Cape on 0861 555 777 for advice.