There are more than 300 members of the rockfish family in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The Latin name for this prolific family is "Scorpaenidae," or the scorpionfishes. Of this family, 57 species are known to have venom. While stings from most rockfishes cause only minor discomfort, stepping on or being finned by some of the more venomous rockfishes can produce very painful puncture wounds that can be life-threatening.
Pain and Swelling
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The puncture wounds of the rockfish are painful, although the level of pain inflicted varies with the species of rockfish. The pain is produced when the crystalline molecules of the venom excite pain receptors. Swelling, throbbing, burning and fever are commonly experienced with rockfish stings. Stings by the more venomous members of this family, particularly the sculpins, can be extremely painful. Some rockfish wounds can remain painful throughout the victim's life, caused by portions of the spine that are broken off in the wound and not retrieved.
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Of 50 patients treated for rockfish stings by physicians of the University of California School of Medicine, all developed infections from the stings. Fever and chills may be seen if the infection or envenomation becomes systemic. Thorough cleaning of the wounds and treatment with antibiotics are necessary to control the infection. The infection frequently causes scarring at the site of the wound. Retained spines or parts of spines can cause secondary infection.
An allergy to rockfish venom is possible if a person has previously been exposed to the substance. Allergic responses may manifest in rashes, swelling, hives and itching. Severe allergy can result in problems breathing, tightness or pain in the chest, and swelling of the lips, mouth or throat. Seek medical help immediately if you experience these symptoms.
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Hospitalization and supportive treatment can be necessary with severe envenomation from rockfish stings. Respiratory failure, cardiac problems and shock can result. The patient sometimes requires respiratory support, along with cardiac drugs and antibiotics.
Penny Kendall is a writer with more than 25 years of experience writing in health care and public policy. She has a Bachelor's Degree in English from the University of Texas and a Diploma in nursing from Brackenridge Hospital School of Nursing. Her experience includes advocacy for persons with disabilities.