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    Wilderness: Bristleworm Sting

    Bristleworm Sting Overview

    Of the many species of worms, the bristleworm is one of the most dangerous. Bristleworms are elongated segmented worms. Each segment contains a pair of bristles. Although bristleworms are not aggressive, they bite when handled, and the bristles can penetrate skin (sting).

    Bristleworms are often found under rocks and corals in tropical areas throughout the world. You should use heavy gloves if you need to handle one.

    Bristleworm Sting Symptoms

    The bristleworm bite or sting may cause the following symptoms:

    • Inflammation
    • Burning
    • Swelling
    • Numbness
    • Redness
    • Pain

    Bristleworm Sting Treatment

    Treatment for a bristleworm bite or sting includes the following:

    • Apply topical acetic acid (vinegar) or isopropyl alcohol.
    • Remove bristles with tweezers or adhesive tape.
    • If severe inflammation and a continual burning sensation develop, apply hydrocortisone cream 3 times per day.
    • If signs of infection are present, such as pus, redness, or heat, apply topical antibiotic ointment and contact your doctor.
    • Oral antibiotics are usually recommended to prevent infection. If infection develops, continue antibiotics as directed by your doctor. Check for drug allergy prior to starting any antibiotic. A doctor will recommend the right antibiotic. Some antibiotics can cause sensitivity to the sun. It's important to avoid direct sunlight, especially between the hours of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and tanning beds. When outdoors, wear protective clothing, such as a long-sleeved shirt, pants, and a wide-brimmed hat, and use a sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more that is protective against both UVA and UVB rays.
    • Pain may be relieved with 1-2 acetaminophen (Tylenol) every 4 hours or 1-2 ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) every 6-8 hours.

    When to Seek Medical Care

    Consult a doctor about treatment with available medications if bitten or stung by a bristleworm.


    Media file 1: A bristleworm.

    Venomous Worm Photo

    Media type: Photo

    Media file 2: Another bristleworm. Note obscured view due to camouflaged dorsum.

    Venomous Worm Photo

    Media type: Photo

    Synonyms and Keywords

    fireworm sting, bristleworm, bristle worm

    WebMD Medical Reference

    Reviewed by William Blahd, MD on May 09, 2016

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