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Your Healthy Family: What to do if you're stung by a sting ray

Posted at 9:04 AM, Jul 27, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-27 09:04:27-04

NAPLES, Fla. — Doctors at NCH Healthcare System said this time of year, they see more people come into the Emergency Department to be treated for stings from a sting ray.

Dr. Shawn Patterson, the Chair of Emergency Medicine at NCH, said sting rays are more common in the gulf from April to November because they enjoy the warmer water. He said if you plan to go in, you need to do the sting ray shuffle.

“The motto is shuffle, don't stomp," he said.

Dr. Patterson said stings from a sting ray are quite painful.

"It is a very common injury that presents to the Emergency Department. And it's not just our visitors, our tourists, It's our residents as well," he said.

Dr. Patterson said sting rays like the area right off the beach.

"So if you've ever entered the water before, and you reach that first little drop off, that's where they like to stay," he said. "There's a barb in their tail that flips up and will poke you in the ankle or the foot."

He said if you shuffle your feet, it gives them pre-warning that you're coming, and they tend to get out of the way.

"They don't like to sting us, they don't want to sting us. They just use that as a defense mechanism," Dr. Patterson said.

He said water shoes won't really protect you from a sting ray sting because they typically hit the upper foot or ankle

If you get stung by a sting ray, Dr. Patterson said the first thing you need to do is get your foot into some hot water.

"What that does is it denatures the protein of the venom, and it decreases the amount of pain that you'll be experiencing," he said.

Then, he said to go to an emergency room or an immediate care center right away.

"One, to make sure that there's not pieces of the barb still in your foot or ankle. And two, we want to clean that out and give you some antibiotics," he said.

Dr. Patterson said the venom from the sting ray isn't the dangerous part: it's the bacteria in the water.

“In the gulf, we do have a bacteria called Vibrio. And this is what people refer to as a flesh-eating bacteria. So if you were to get a stingray sting and we didn't give you appropriate prophylactic antibiotics, then you can get a really bad skin infection," he said.

He said you can have fun at the beach, you just need to take the proper precautions. Dr. Patterson also said to get some polarized sunglasses to help you see the sting ray below the surface.