Centipedes are elongated, multisegmented arthropods with 1 pair of legs per body segment. They are found worldwide in warm, temperate, and tropical regions, where they typically live underground. They are nocturnal hunters, preying mostly on invertebrates, and are fast moving.
Centipedes have between 15 and 100 body segments. The first segment bears claws with venom glands at their bases. The venom is primarily used to kill prey and contains a complex mixture of proteins, histamine, and serotonin that is not well studied.
Centipede stings typically cause severe, burning pain, local swelling, redness, pruritus, and lymphadenopathy. Systemic symptoms include nausea, vomiting, headache, palpitations, and anxiety. Hemorrhagic vesicles, ulceration, and local necrosis can occur at the sting site. Death is rare, with only 3 reported cases in the literature. Proteinuria, rhabdomyolysis, a case of myocardial ischemia, and another case of myocardial infarction have also been reported.
ICD10CM: T63.411A – Toxic effect of venom of centipedes and venomous millipedes, accidental, initial encounter
SNOMEDCT: 217677005 – Poisoning due to centipede venom
Centipedes are multi-segmented, long, flattened arthropods (related to spiders and flies). They can have more than 100 body segments and move quickly when they come out from under rocks or above ground to hunt at night. They are found worldwide. They use their pincers to poison and grasp their prey.
When humans are stung by centipede pincers, the stings are usually mild and symptoms clear within hours.
Who’s At Risk
You are at risk if you are outdoors and exposed to centipedes. If you have an outdoor hobby or profession such as landscaping or gardening, your risk of getting stung by a centipede increases.
Signs & Symptoms
Common symptoms of centipede envenomation are:
Severe burning pain
Itching, swelling, and redness or bruising at the sting site
Palpitations and anxiety
Painful and swollen lymph nodes
Nausea and vomiting
Rarely, cardiovascular or other complications may occur that require emergency care.
You may find relief by using one or more of these treatments:
Apply ice to the affected site for pain and swelling
Use an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) for pain and swelling
Use an over-the counter antihistamine for itching
When to Seek Medical Care
If the affected area continues to get more painful or does not improve with time, seek medical attention.
Your health care provider may call for:
A local injectable anesthetic to reduce pain
A tetanus shot, if needed
Monitoring your condition for 4 hours to watch for toxic reactions
Oral and/or prescription antihistamines if over-the-counter antihistamines are insufficient to relieve itching