(See also Introduction to Bites and Stings.)
Stingrays contain venom in spines located on the back of their tail. Injuries usually occur when a person steps on a stingray (which is often buried in sand) while wading in shallow ocean surf. The stingray thrusts its tail spine into the person’s foot or leg, releasing venom. Fragments of the spine’s covering may remain in the wound, increasing the risk of infection.
The wound from a stingray’s spine is usually jagged and bleeds freely. Pain is immediate and severe, gradually diminishing over 6 to 48 hours. Many people with these wounds experience fainting spells, weakness, nausea, and anxiety. Vomiting, diarrhea, sweating, generalized cramps, breathing difficulties, and death are less common.
First aid treatment for stingray injuries to an arm or leg begins by gently rinsing with salt water in an attempt to remove fragments of the tail spine. The spine should be removed only if it is at the skin surface and is not penetrating the neck, chest, or abdomen. Significant bleeding should be slowed by applying direct pressure.
In the emergency department, doctors examine the wound and remove fragments of the spine. A tetanus shot may be needed. The injured arm or leg should be elevated for several days. Some injured people are given antibiotics and may need surgery to close the wound.