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First Aid for Catfish Sting

Last updated March 5, 2018

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD MPH

The catfish is a fish with cat-like whiskers around its mouth. Most species of catfishes have stingers near their dorsal and pectoral fins to ward-off predators. In certain catfish types, the stingers can deliver venom that can cause certain health effects in humans.


What is Catfish Sting?

The catfish is a fish with cat-like whiskers around its mouth. Most species of catfishes have stingers near their dorsal and pectoral fins to ward-off predators. In certain catfish types, the stingers can deliver venom that can cause certain health effects in humans

What are the Causes of Catfish Sting?

Most common causes of Catfish Sting include (but are not limited to):

  • Improperly holding or handling catfish (especially the smaller fish types)
  • Individuals working in catfish aquaculture
  • Swimmers, surfers, divers, and beachgoers
  • Wading in ocean waters without suitable protective clothing
  • Walking barefoot on the beach or in shallow sea waters

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Catfish Sting?

Signs and symptoms of Catfish Stings vary according to the type of species the individual is exposed to and the amount of toxin injected. The symptoms may be mild or severe and could include:

  • Local injury, cuts, gashes, and laceration; usually on the arms and legs
  • Puncture wounds with severe bleeding
  • Rashes on the skin (red-colored welts), bruising
  • Swelling of the wound
  • Sweating
  • Headaches
  • Allergic shock or reaction, in some cases
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue

How is First Aid administered for Catfish Sting?

If a Catfish Sting (or sting or bite of a marine creature) is suspected, it is always important to call your local emergency helpline number (or 911 in the US) without any delay, and provide as much information as possible, even if the individual does not have any symptoms.

Until medical help arrives:

  • Move the individual away from the water or incident spot
  • Make a note of the exact time of the incident and notify the emergency medical personnel accordingly
  • Try to remove the stinger (if visible), by gently scraping the site using a hard-edged object (either metal or plastic) or a pair of tweezers
  • Use hot water to inactivate any remaining toxin
  • Use pressure to arrest bleeding (if possible)
  • Wash affected area with soap and fresh water
  • Try to identify or locate the marine animal (only if safely possible) and keep the medical personnel informed
  • DO NOT give anything orally to the individual
  • Unless directed by the physician, DO NOT give any medication

Who should administer First Aid for Catfish Sting?

The individual himself/herself or someone nearby may begin to administer First Aid. Call your local emergency helpline number or 911 immediately as mentioned before.

What is the Prognosis of Catfish Sting?

The prognosis of Catfish Sting is dependent on the potency of the toxin, the severity of reaction, and timely manner in which treatment is administered.

How can Catfish Sting be Prevented?

A few helpful tips to prevent Catfish Sting include:

  • Fishermen and fisherwomen are advised to learn the correct techniques of handling catfish, especially the smaller varieties
  • 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 (suitable wet skin or diver’s suit)
  • Generally be aware or watchful of the waters you are in (to the extent possible)
  • Wear protective footwear while walking on beach sand

What are certain Crucial Steps to be followed?

Do’s:

  • Call your local emergency helpline number (or 911) for help
  • Remove the victim immediately from the water
  • Wear gloves while removing stingers
  • When in doubt, wash the affected area with seawater and not freshwater
  • If possible, use hot water to repeatedly wash the wound

Don’ts:

  • Do not hesitate to call your emergency help services
  • Do not remove stingers without wearing suitable protective hand gloves
  • Do not medicate the individual, unless advised by a healthcare professional
  • Do not move the affected region of the body too much
  • Do not run or exercise which might increase the circulation of toxin in the body
  • Do not elevate the affected area above the heart level, since this can also increase circulation of the toxin

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?


References and Information Sources used for the Article:


Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:


Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Dec. 27, 2015
Last updated: March 5, 2018