Blue-Ringed Octopus Bite

Last updated Dec. 24, 2015

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What are the other Names for this Condition? (Also known as/Synonyms)

  • Blue-Ringed Octopus Injury

What is Blue-Ringed Octopus Bite? (Definition/Background Information)

  • The blue-ringed octopus is a marine creature that normally inhabits shallow ocean floors (at about 3 m or lesser depths). It is a small creature that extends up to 20 cm in length including the tentacles
  • It has blue rings on the body, which are often concealed since the octopus can change colors and skin texture to blend into its surrounding environment. The blue rings are warning markers that gain prominence only when the octopus senses danger
  • The bite of the blue-ringed octopus can inject a highly potent venom, called tetrodotoxin, into its prey. The creature is generally non-aggressive and does not intentionally attack humans. However, since they reside in shallow sea floors, there is a high risk of the octopus being stepped upon or picked up (by unsuspecting swimmers or divers)
  • The Blue-Ringed Octopus Bite is a serious condition and the effect of the toxin on the human body is paralyzing; the venom can act in a matter of about ten minutes. The severity of signs and symptoms depends on the amount of venom that is injected
  • Immediate medical attention has to be sought in all cases of blue-ringed octopus poisoning. The treatment is often symptomatic, because there is no available antidote for tetrodotoxin
  • The prognosis is generally guarded and mostly depends upon the quantity of venom injected and the speed with which treatment is provided

Who gets Blue-Ringed Octopus Bite? (Age and Sex Distribution)

  • Any individual exposed to the blue-ringed octopus is vulnerable to be bitten
  • Both males and females are affected and there is no gender bias observed
  • The octopus is mainly found in the Indian and Pacific oceans; most cases of bites are reported from Australia, New Zealand, and Japan

What are the Risk Factors for Blue-Ringed Octopus Bite? (Predisposing Factors)

The risk factors identified for Blue-Ringed Octopus Bites include:

  • Swimmers, surfers, divers, and beachgoers
  • Coral reef divers
  • The fishing community
  • Wading in ocean waters without suitable protective clothing
  • Picking up the octopus with bare hands
  • Walking barefoot on the beach or in shallow sea water
  • Visiting beaches where the blue-ringed octopus is common is a potential risk factor
  • Handling dead or live blue-ringed octopuses

It is important to note that having a risk factor does not mean that one will get the condition. A risk factor increases ones chances of getting a condition compared to an individual without the risk factors. Some risk factors are more important than others.

Also, not having a risk factor does not mean that an individual will not get the condition. It is always important to discuss the effect of risk factors with your healthcare provider.

What are the Causes of Blue-Ringed Octopus Bite? (Etiology)

  • The Blue-Ringed Octopus Bite releases a deadly poison into the human skin, which can affect the body
  • Depending on the amount of poison injected, the severity of the signs and symptoms is dictated

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Blue-Ringed Octopus Bite?

The signs and symptoms of Blue-Ringed Octopus Bite may include:

  • The presence of a tiny puncture mark on the skin (at the bite site)
  • Dizziness, intoxication
  • Numbing of facial muscles and tongue
  • Severe fatigue and weak muscles
  • Vomiting
  • Abnormal heart rate
  • Decreased blood pressure
  • Unconsciousness

The onset of signs and symptoms may occur within 5-10 minutes; no pain may be felt during this short period. Children may have more signs and symptoms than adults due to lesser body mass.

How is Blue-Ringed Octopus Bite Diagnosed?

A Blue-Ringed Octopus Bite is diagnosed through the following tools:

  • A physical examination of the affected site by the physician is normally sufficient to diagnose the condition
  • In addition, the symptoms exhibited by the individual may be carefully observed
  • The individual may be asked to provide an account (history) of the events that occurred (what took place and how)
  • Blood test consisting of complete blood count (CBC) and electrolytes

Many clinical conditions may have similar signs and symptoms. Your healthcare provider may perform additional tests to rule out other clinical conditions to arrive at a definitive diagnosis.

What are the possible Complications of Blue-Ringed Octopus Bite?

The complications that may arise from a Blue-Ringed Octopus Bite may include:

  • Paralysis of muscles may occur after a few hours and can be fatal, if the respiratory system is affected
  • Delirium and shock
  • Coma and death

How is Blue-Ringed Octopus Bite Treated?

Emergency medical treatment measures for Blue-Ringed Octopus Bite may include:

  • Application of pressure bandage on the bite site
  • CPR may be provided as necessary, breathing assistance
  • Monitoring of vital signs, stabilizing the blood pressure
  • Detoxification
  • Proper follow-up care and check-ups may be required

Note: It is always important to call the local emergency helpline number (911 in the US) without any delay.

How can Blue-Ringed Octopus Bite be Prevented?

The following factors may be considered to reduce the incidence of Blue-Ringed Octopus Bite:

  • Do not ignore warnings of lifeguards or health officials at the beach
  • Wear protective clothing if you plan to swim or dive in infested areas
  • Generally be aware or watchful of the waters you are in (to the extent possible)
  • Wear protective footwear while walking on beach sand
  • Avoid making an attempt to touch or handle marine animals unnecessarily, even if they are pets
  • Do not handle dead octopuses

Note: Currently, there is no anti-venom available for Blue-Ringed Octopus Bite.

What is the Prognosis of Blue-Ringed Octopus Bite? (Outcomes/Resolutions)

  • The prognosis of Blue-Ringed Octopus Bite is generally guarded
  • If the individual’s condition stabilizes after 24 hours (whether in ICU or coma), then the prognosis may be slightly improved

Additional and Relevant Useful Information for Blue-Ringed Octopus Bite:

The tetrodotoxin venom is also found in the deadly pufferfish.

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?

National Capital Poison Center
3201 New Mexico Ave, Suite 310 Washington, DC 20016
Administrative Line: (202) 362-3867
Emergency Line: 1 (800) 222-1222
Fax: (202) 362-8377
Email: pc@poison.org
Website: http://www.poison.org

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

White, J. (2000). Bites and stings from venomous animals: a global overview. Therapeutic drug monitoring, 22(1), 65-68.

Halstead, B. W. (1959). Dangerous Marine Animals. Dangerous Marine Animals.

Burnett, J. W., Fenner, P. J., & Rifkin, J. F. (1996). Venomous and poisonous marine animals: a medical and biological handbook. UNSW Press.

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

DoveMed is currently working on a peer-reviewed database, to complement the information presented. Please do check back periodically.

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Dec. 24, 2015
Last updated: Dec. 24, 2015

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