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A starfish is marine creature that normally inhabits the deep ocean floors. Some species are venomous to human beings. Starfish do not attack humans, but can inflict painful stings with the release of venom, when they are accidently stepped upon or handled.

What is Starfish Sting?

A starfish is marine creature that normally inhabits the deep ocean floors. Some species are venomous to human beings. Starfish do not attack humans, but can inflict painful stings with the release of venom, when they are accidently stepped upon or handled.

What are the Causes of Starfish Sting?

Most common causes of Starfish Stings include (but are not limited to):

  • Exposure to starfish in the deep ocean; generally sea divers are at risk
  • Wading in ocean waters without suitable protective clothing
  • Picking up starfish with bare hands
  • Handling starfish, either alive or dead
  • Keeping them as pets or exhibits in aquaria

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Starfish Sting?

Signs and symptoms of Starfish 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:

  • Mild cases:
    • Puncture wounds with severe bleeding
    • Severe pain
    • Itching
    • Swelling of the area
    • Rashes on the skin
    • Tingling and numbness
  • Severe symptoms may be systemic and may additionally include:
    • Breathing difficulties
    • Cough
    • Weakness
    • Muscular spasms, joint pain and stiffness
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Unconsciousness

How is First Aid administered for Starfish Sting?

If a Starfish 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
  • 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 Starfish 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 Starfish Sting?

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

How can Starfish Sting be Prevented?

A few helpful tips to prevent Starfish Sting include:

  • Avoid making an attempt to touch or handle marine animals unnecessarily, even if they are pets
  • 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)
  • Do not handle dead starfish, since they can also cause an accidental sting

What are certain Crucial Steps to be followed?


  • 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


  • 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?

National Capital Poison Center (USA)
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

American Association of Poison Control Centers (USA)
515 King St., Suite 510, Alexandria, VA 22314
Phone: (703) 894-1858
Email: info@aapcc.org
Website: http://www.aapcc.org

National Poisons Centre (New Zealand)
Dunedin School of Medicine, University of Otago
PO Box 913 Dunedin 9054, New Zealand
Phone: 0800 POISON (0800 764 766)
Website: http://www.poisons.co.nz

NSW Poisons Information Centre (Australia)
Hawkesbury Rd & Hainsworth Street, Westmead NSW 2145, Australia
Phone: +61 13 11 26
Email: nswpoisons@chw.edu.au
Website: https://www.poisonsinfo.nsw.gov.au

British Columbia Drug and Poison Information Centre (Canada)
Room 0063, BC Centre for Disease Control
655 West 12th Avenue
Vancouver, BC V5Z 4R4 Canada
Phone: (604) 682-5050
Toll-Free: 1 (800) 567-8911
Fax: (604) 707-2807
Website: http://www.capcc.ca

Poisons Information Centre (South Africa)
Room 411, Institute of Child Health
Red Cross Children's Hospital
Klipfontein Road, Rondebosch, 7700, Cape Town South Africa
Phone: +27 21 658 5308
Fax: +27 21  650 4492
Email: poisonsinformation@uct.ac.za
Website: https://www.afritox.co.za

National Poisons Information Service (United Kingdom)
City Hospital Dudley Rd, Birmingham United Kingdom B187QH
Phone: +44 844 892 0111
Fax: +44 121 507 55 88
Email: mail@npis.org
Website: http://www.npis.org

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stings-marine-creatures/pages/treatment.aspx (accessed on 12/23/2015)

https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/bites-and-stings-first-aid (accessed on 12/23/2015)

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Sato, H., Tsuruta, Y., YAMAMOTO, Y. I., Asato, Y., Taira, K., Hagiwara, K., ... & Uezato, H. (2008). Case of skin injuries due to stings by crown‐of‐thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci). The Journal of dermatology, 35(3), 162-167.

Ihama, Y., Fukasawa, M., Ninomiya, K., Kawakami, Y., Nagai, T., Fuke, C., & Miyazaki, T. (2014). Anaphylactic shock caused by sting of crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci). Forensic science international, 236, e5-e8.

Lee, C. C., Tsai, W. S., Hsieh, H. J., & Hwang, D. F. (2013). Hemolytic activity of venom from crown-of-thorns starfish Acanthaster planci spines. Journal of venomous animals and toxins including tropical diseases, 19(1), 22.

Lee, C. C., Tsai, W. S., Hsieh, H. J., & Hwang, D. F. (2013). Cytotoxicity of venom from crown-of-thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci) spine. Molecular and Cellular Toxicology, 9(2), 1771-1784.

Lee, C. C., Hsieh, H. J., & Hwang, D. F. (2015). Cytotoxic and apoptotic activities of the plancitoxin I from the venom of crown‐of‐thorns starfish (Acanthaster planci) on A375. S2 cells. Journal of applied toxicology, 35(4), 407-417.