Do centipedes make you sick?

Centipedes are long, many-legged arthropods that can be found worldwide. There are around 3,000 species of centipedes, with body lengths ranging from under 1 inch to over 1 foot. Centipedes have one pair of legs per body segment, so house centipedes can have 15 to 177 pairs of legs.

While the appearance of centipedes can be startling, especially when they move quickly, most centipede species are not considered dangerous to humans. However, some larger tropical centipedes can inflict painful bites that cause mild to moderate symptoms. So do centipedes make you sick? Let’s take a closer look at centipede bites and their potential health effects.

Do centipede bites contain venom?

Yes, centipedes do have venom claws that they use to subdue prey. This venom is produced in glands at the bases of their forcipules, which are pincer-like appendages near their heads.

When a centipede bites, it pierces the skin with these sharp claws and injects its venom. The composition of centipede venom is complex and contains different molecules including:

– Neurotoxins – affect nerve tissue
– Cardiotoxins – affect heart tissue
– Necrotoxins – kill cells

So while not all centipede species produce medically significant venom, their bites do introduce toxic compounds into the body.

What are the symptoms of a centipede bite?

The reactions caused by centipede bites depend on the species and toxicity of the venom, as well as the amount injected. Bites from small household centipedes likely cause mild symptoms, while larger tropical centipedes can induce severe pain and swelling.

Typical symptoms from moderate centipede envenomation include:

– Immediate severe pain at the bite site
– Redness and swelling spreading from the bite
– Possible blistering around the wound
– Lymph node swelling near the bite
– Headache
– Nausea
– Palpitations
– Anxiety

The bite pain may radiate up the bitten limb and remain for up to 48 hours. Fortunately, serious complications like tissue damage, respiratory distress, and anaphylaxis are rare.

What should you do if bitten by a centipede?

If you experience a centipede bite, the first step is gently washing the wound with soap and water. Apply an ice pack to reduce swelling and pain. Keep the bitten extremity immobilized and elevated.

Monitor for any signs of allergic reaction like exaggerated swelling, hives, breathing difficulties, or dizziness. Seek emergency care if these severe symptoms develop.

Over-the-counter pain medications like acetaminophen or ibuprofen can help ease localized pain. Topical hydrocortisone cream may also relieve itching and swelling. Avoid using compression wraps on the bite.

Pay attention for signs of infection like increased redness, warmth, oozing, or streaking from the bite over the next few days. See your doctor promptly if you notice increasing pain or other symptoms of infection.

When should you seek medical treatment?

Most centipede bites can be managed at home with conservative treatment. However, you should seek prompt medical attention if you experience:

– Difficulty breathing
– Swelling of the face, lips, tongue, or throat
– Dizziness, chest pain, or palpitations
– Intense pain lasting more than 6 hours after the bite
– Signs of infection like redness spreading from the bite
– Numbness or tingling extending from the bite
– Persistent headache, nausea, or vomiting

Seek care immediately if bitten by a large tropical centipede species, as their venom can induce severe tissue damage. Children who are bitten may need to be evaluated by a doctor.

What will happen at medical treatment?

When you seek medical care for a centipede bite, the doctor will ask about your symptoms and examine the wound. They will clean and dress the bite, and may test your blood or give medications if you are having a severe reaction.

Treatment options may include:

– **Antivenom** – Centipede antivenom can rapidly reverse symptoms from bites by neutralizing the venom. It is injected for severe envenomations.

– **IV fluids** – Fluids help maintain blood pressure in case of toxicity from the venom.

– **Medications** – Antihistamines treat allergic responses, and antiemetics ease nausea and vomiting.

– **Antibiotics** – Prescribed if the wound shows signs of bacterial infection.

– **Tetanus shot** – Recommended if your tetanus immunization is not up to date.

– **Pain medication** – Prescription oral or topical pain relievers may be given for bite pain.

– **Wound care** – The bite may need cleaning and bandaging until healed.

Can you develop an infection from a centipede bite?

Like with any break in the skin, centipede bites do pose a small risk of bacterial infection. Signs of infection include increasing redness, warmth, and swelling around the bite, oozing, and red streaking.

Fever, chills, and lymph node swelling can also indicate the bite has become infected. See your doctor promptly if you notice these worrisome signs, as antibiotic treatment may be needed.

To lower infection risk, thoroughly cleanse the bite and your hands afterwards. Watch closely for early signs of infection and avoid scratching or irritating the wound. Over-the-counter antibiotic ointment can help prevent bacterial overgrowth.

Do centipede bites spread disease?

Centipedes themselves do not spread communicable diseases to humans. However, their venomous bites puncture the skin, allowing potential entry points for germs to enter.

Tetanus is one concern with centipede bites, or any break in the skin, as the bacteria can enter through wounds. Make sure your tetanus vaccine is up to date.

Beyond tetanus, centipedes do not transmit infectious diseases through their bites. The main risks come from the toxicity of their venom and possibility of secondary infection, not contagion.

Can you become allergic to centipede bites?

It’s possible to develop an allergic reaction to centipede venom after being bitten. The proteins in the venom can stimulate an immune response that leads to allergic sensitization.

Signs of an allergic reaction after a centipede bite include:

– Rash or hives near the bite or all over the body
– Swelling in areas beyond just the bite site
– Wheezing or difficulty breathing
– Feeling faint or dizzy
– Stomach pain, nausea, or vomiting

Seek prompt medical treatment for these symptoms, as interventions like epinephrine, steroids, and IV fluids may be required for stability. Those with known venom allergies should carry emergency epinephrine like an EpiPen in case of bites.

What species of centipedes are most dangerous?

House centipedes and small native species rarely cause severe bites. The larger tropical centipedes have the most medically concerning venom:

– **Scolopendra species** – Found throughout the tropics and subtropics. They can reach over 1 foot long and their bites can cause extremely painful swelling and necrosis.

– **Ethmostigmus species** – Giant centipedes of Southeast Asia over 10 inches long. Their venom can induce headache, cardiac effects, and tissue damage.

– **Alipes species** – Mediterranean centipedes that can inflict painful bites leading to swelling and numbness.

Any sizable centipede warrants caution, but watch for these larger species when traveling in warm climates. Their venom can overpower smaller prey and packs a more toxic punch to humans.

Are centipede bites deadly?

While centipede bites are painful and concerning, very few human deaths have been attributed to their venom. Fatalities are extremely rare and usually associated with:

– **Allergic reaction** – Anaphylaxis causing airway closure or cardiovascular collapse.

– **Excessive toxicity** – Primarily reported in small children bitten by giant tropical centipedes.

– **Secondary infection** – Particularly in immunocompromised patients if wounds become severely infected.

With appropriate wound care and monitoring for allergic reactions, most centipede bites resolve without incident. Only the most medically fragile individuals succumb to the venom’s effects or complications.

How can centipede bites be prevented?

The best way to avoid centipede bites is to be cautious in areas where they are found, like woodpiles, rocks, leaf litter, and crawlspaces. Take these precautions to reduce your risk:

– Carefully check shoes, gloves, towels, and clothing before use. Shake out any critters.

– Keep your living space clean and dry to discourage centipedes moving inside.

– Seal cracks in walls, foundations, windows, and doors to block entry points.

– Use plastic covers over door thresholds and pipe openings.

– Eliminate moist debris piles around the home where centipedes congregate.

– Use pest control measures like diatomaceous earth or insecticides if needed.

– Handle and collect firewood cautiously and wear heavy gloves.

– Inspect bedding and sleeping areas thoroughly if camping or traveling.

Staying vigilant and controlling centipede populations around your home can help reduce the chances of disturbing and being bitten by them.


Centipede bites can certainly be an unpleasant experience, but severe complications are uncommon with proper first aid and follow up care. While their venom can induce localized pain and swelling, medically significant effects are rare beyond tropical regions. With proper wound care and tetanus prevention, most centipede bites resolve without issue. However, seek prompt medical treatment for any signs of allergic reaction or bite infection for appropriate care and management. Overall, simple precautions around likely centipede habitats can help prevent startling but relatively benign bites.

Species Location Size Bite Effects
Scolopendra Tropics and subtropics worldwide up to 12 inches Severe pain, swelling, necrosis
Ethmostigmus Southeast Asia over 10 inches Headache, cardiac issues, tissue damage
Alipes Mediterranean region 2-3 inches Pain, swelling, numbness
Common house centipede Worldwide 1-1.5 inches Mild pain and irritation

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