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Wilderness: Catfish Sting

Catfish Sting Overview

Catfish have whiskers protruding from the area around the mouth. Catfish are often found in muddy rivers, lakes, and on beaches in tropical, subtropical, and temperate waters. These fish are not aggressive. People who are stung by catfish are usually fishing or bathing when they make contact with a catfish, usually by stepping on it. Both salt- and fresh-water catfish are dangerous. Each has 3 spines and a stinging apparatus.

Catfish Sting Symptoms

Severe pain and inflammation occur at the site of the sting.

Catfish Sting Treatment

  • Immersing the affected area in water as hot as is tolerable usually relieves pain from a sting.
  • Spines should be removed with tweezers.
  • The wound should be scrubbed and irrigated with fresh water.
  • The wound should not be taped or sewn together.
  • Oral antibiotics are usually recommended for stings that become infected. Antibiotics should be taken if infection develops for at least 5 days after all signs of infection have cleared. Potential drug allergies should be checked prior to starting any antibiotic. A doctor can recommend the appropriate antibiotic. Some antibiotics can cause sensitivity to the sun, so a sunscreen (at least SPF 30) is also recommended for use with such antibiotics.
  • Pain associated with a catfish sting may be relieved with 1-2 acetaminophen (Tylenol) every 4 hours and/or 1-2 ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) every 6-8 hours.

When to Seek Medical Care

  • Medical treatment should be sought as soon as possible after a catfish sting.
  • A doctor should be consulted about treatment with available medications.


Media file 1: Armored catfish.

Catfish Photo 1

Media type: Photo

Media file 2: Domestic catfish.

Catfish Photo 2

Media type: Photo

Synonyms and Keywords

wilderness: catfish sting, catfish sting, catfish

WebMD Medical Reference from eMedicineHealth

Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on May 06, 2014

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