Bites and stings

There are many Australian species that bite or sting, such as insects, bees, wasps, ants, mosquitos, ticks, scorpions, caterpillars, centipedes, spiders, snakes and sea creatures. Some bites and stings may be harmless and not require treatment, others may be venomous or cause a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis) and require medical treatment promptly.

Allergies to venoms from stinging insects (bees, wasps and ants) are one of the most common causes of severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) in Australia. Symptoms include a rash, swelling of tongue or throat, trouble breathing, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, vomiting or a drop in blood pressure (shock).

Anaphylaxis from stinging insect allergy results in an average of three deaths per year in Australia. Those with a known allergy should be seen by a medical specialist (clinical immunology/allergy specialist) to develop a strategy for managing subsequent bites or stings and have two adrenaline auto injectors (e.g. EpiPen) readily available to treat anaphylaxis.

People at greater risk of severe reactions to spider venom include babies, young children, the elderly and people with an existing heart condition.

In the event of a venomous bite or sting –

  • Call triple zero (000) for an ambulance in an emergency.
  • Keep casualty as still as possible.
  • Use Pressure Immobilisation Technique (PIT) for venomous bites/stings or other bites if allergic. Apply pressure to the wound with a firm (10-15cm wide) elasticised bandage – Use a second wide bandage starting at toes or fingers and bandage up limb as far as possible.
  • Do not apply a tourniquet
  • Do not remove the bandage at any stage and mark the bandage at the site of the bite or sting. This will enable medical staff to locate the site for inspection without removing the bandage.

If the person collapses or stops breathing, you will need to apply CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) until medical help arrives.

If needing more information call Victorian Poisons Information Centre call 13 11 26 – seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

Important Note: Applying firm pressure immobilisation with a bandage to a Red Back spider bite can cause more damage to the tissue around the bite site. It is recommended to apply a cold pack to help with pain. Ensure that ice doesn’t come into direct contact to the skin for more than 20mins and seek medical help.

For more information on bites and stings – first aid visit Better Health Channel

Fast facts:

  • Many Australian species can bite or sting, some may be harmless, others may be venomous or cause allergic or anaphylactic reactions.
  • If you’re known to have a severe allergy to the bite or sting of a species – have a management plan.
  • Don’t use tourniquets on bites, cut the puncture site or try to suck out the venom.
  • Seek medical assistance immediately
  • Call triple zero (000) for an ambulance in an emergency.

References used for this topic

More information:

Victorian Poisons Information Centre
Call 13 11 26 – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
Bites and stings

Australian Museum
Insect bites and stings

Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne
Insect bites and stings in children

Better Health Channel
Applying CPR

University of Melbourne
Preventing venomous injuries with the new Australian Bites and Stings APP

Clinical care:

Austin Health
First Aid (including Pressure immobilisation technique)

Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne
Snakebite

Research & reviews:

ASCIA – Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy Limited
Allergic reaction to bites and stings

Medical Journal of Australia
Anaphylaxis to stings and bites