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September 2014    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Vol. 29, No. 9   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Watch Out for Lionfish Stings

from the September, 2014 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Divers and others are making enormous efforts to reduce the mass of lionfish in Atlantic and Caribbean waters. In fact, Florida now allows rebreather divers to harvest lionfish, and divers in tournaments and other organized events can spear lionfish in areas where spearfishing is otherwise not allowed. But a can-do attitude and gloves can't prevent lionfish from defending themselves with their painful stings.

At the Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society's last conference, Jorge Dario Gomez-Castillo, medical director for the hyperbaric chamber at the Cozumel Medical Center, presented 33 cases of divers stung by lionfish in Cozumel over three years. Twenty-one of them were participating in lionfish culling tournaments and were stung while handling the catch. Seven were trying to catch the fish, and only five were stung accidentally. All were stung on their hands.

Gomez-Castillo's patients were treated by immersing of the affected hand in a nonscalding hot bath and with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. All responded well to the hot water and were advised to seek tetanus shots. Apparently, being stung didn't appear to discourage the divers from participating in more lionfish tournaments -- nine were stung more than once.

Divers Alert Network's medical director, Petar DeNoble, says that divers with cardiac conditions or compromised immune systems could suffer more serious results. Stings from lionfish spines cause burning pain that can last for days, and may be accompanied by sweating, respiratory distress and other symptoms including even paralysis.

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