Bristleworm Sting

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Wilderness: Bristleworm Sting Related Articles

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 Symptoms

The bristleworm spines when touched can sting and cause:

  • pain,
  • burning sensation,
  • redness,
  • swelling, and
  • a rash.

The spines do not have any associated venom producing cells so there is no fear of additional "venom" being released with removal of the spines.

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.

Bristleworm Pictures

A bristleworm
A bristleworm Click to view larger image.

Another bristleworm; Note obscured view due to camouflaged dorsum.
Another bristleworm; Note obscured view due to camouflaged dorsum. Click to view larger image.

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Reviewed on 11/20/2017
Sources: References