What is a bristleworm?
- Of the many species of worms, the bristleworm is one of the most dangerous.
- Bristleworms are elongated segmented worms and belong to the phylum of Annelid worms, class Polychaeta.
- They can grow up to 1 foot in length (30 cm) and a width of 1 inch (2.54 cm). Each segment contains a pair of bristles.
- Although bristleworms are not aggressive, they may bite when handled, and the bristles or spines (termed chaetea) can penetrate skin (sting when touched).
- The spines penetrate the skin like cactus spines and can be difficult to remove, and usually cause the most symptoms listed below.
- Use heavy gloves if handling these worms is necessary.
- Bristleworms are often found in tidal waters under rocks and corals in tropical areas throughout the world.
- Over 10,000 species of bristleworms (Polychaeta) have been identified.
Bristleworm Sting Treatment
Treatment for a bristleworm sting includes the following:
- Remove bristles with tweezers or adhesive tape. A facial "peel" may be used over the over the spines or a thick layer of rubber cement. Once the rubber cement has dried, peel it off to remove or to pull the residual spines out of the skin.
- Clean the skin carefully so as to not break off any of the spines.
- Any of the following may help to relieve the symptoms especially after the spines have been removed: 5% acetic acid (Vinegar), 70% isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol), dilute ammonia or a paste or solution of meat tenderizer.
- Severe skin irritation or other skin reactions may benefit from a topical corticosteroid cream or ointment such as hydrocortisone. Some individuals may even benefit from oral steroids such as prednisone.
- If signs of infection are present, such as pus, redness, or localized warmth then the patient should consult a health care professional.
- Oral antibiotics are often recommended to prevent secondary bacterial infection. Some antibiotics can cause sensitivity to the sun, so use a sunscreen (at least SPF 15) if a person must have sun exposure during treatment.
- Pain may be relieved with acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) taken according to manufacturers direction(s).
When to Seek Medical Care for a Bristleworm Sting
Consult a doctor about treatment with available medications if bitten or stung by a bristleworm.
Medically reviewed by Avrom Simon, MD; Board Certified Preventative Medicine with Subspecialty in Occupational Medicine
Cristopher Glasby, Tarmo Timm (2008). Global diversity of polychaetes (Polychaeta: Annelida) in freshwater. In E. V. Balian, C. Lé vêque, H. Segers & K. Martens. "Freshwater Animal Diversity Assessment". Hydrobiologia 595 (1): 107 - 115.
Briggs, D.E.G.; Kear, A.J. (1993). "Decay and preservation of polychaetes; taphonomic thresholds in soft-bodied organisms." Paleobiology 19 (1): 107 - 135.