Centipede bites are rare in humans, but when they do happen, they can cause mild-to-moderate pain. Some people may experience severe symptoms or allergic reactions from the centipede venom, but these occur only rarely.
Unless the person is experiencing a severe allergic reaction, they will not require treatment for a centipede bite. Anti-itch and pain-relieving medications can help soothe a person’s symptoms.
The symptoms typically disappear within a few hours or days, and there is a low risk of any long-term consequences.
In this article, we discuss the possible symptoms and treatments of a centipede bite, as well as the outlook for a person who receives one. We also compare centipede bites with millipede bites.
Although people use the term “bite,” a centipede does not actually use their mouthparts to damage the skin. When a centipede feels threatened, it will pierce the skin of its prey with the pincer-like tips of the legs closest to the head, which are called forcipules.
The bite looks like two red marks on the skin, which form a V-shape due to the positioning of the forcipules of the centipede.
People rarely report any serious symptoms from a centipede bite.
Some possible effects of a centipede bite include:
- localized pain
- swelling and redness
- itchiness or burning
- numbness, tingling, and tenderness
- hardening of the skin
- red streaks on the skin
- localized infection
- tissue death
- swelling of the lymph nodes
In extremely rare cases, there have been reports of more severe symptoms, such as:
- lack of oxygen to the heart muscle
- heart attack
- blood in the urine
- hemoglobin in the urine
- rhabdomyolysis, which is the break down of damaged skeletal muscle tissue
- excessive bleeding
- skin infections
Some people may experience an allergic reaction to a centipede bite. Researchers in Thailand described a situation in which a 23-year-old man experienced anaphylactic shock — a severe allergic reaction — after a centipede bit him.
An allergic reaction may occur within minutes of receiving a bite. Some of the symptoms of a severe reaction include:
- facial swelling
- generalized hives and rash on the skin
- chest discomfort
- loss of consciousness or responsiveness
- severely low blood pressure, called hypotension
When a centipede bites a person, they inject venom into the skin. The production of the venom takes place in a gland in the forcipule. Centipedes inject venom into their prey to protect and defend themselves. Sometimes, the centipede may feel threatened by a human.
Researchers have isolated more than 500 components of centipede venom, but they have only described a few of these.
Some of the components include chemicals that occur naturally in the brain, such as serotonin and histamine. Researchers note that these chemicals do not typically cause neurological effects in humans.
Neurological symptoms (rare)
Rarely, some people may report the following neurological symptoms from a centipede bite:
- the feeling of losing consciousness
A few people have reported euphoric feelings, psychological effects, and memory disturbances following a centipede bite.
Researchers must continue to study centipede bites to determine the effect of the different components of centipede venom on humans.
People may feel anxious when a centipede bites them, due to both the pain of the bite and the appearance of the multi-legged creature. However, in most cases, a person will not need to seek medical attention because a centipede bite is rarely serious.
If a person does see a doctor, the doctor may suggest using treatments to soothe the pain, itchiness, and swelling of the skin. However, the symptoms tend to resolve on their own within a few hours or a few days at most.
Some people may need a pain reliever, such as acetaminophen, or an anti-inflammatory, such as ibuprofen. Cortisone cream and antihistamines can also reduce symptoms of allergies.
If a person experiences a severe allergic reaction to a centipede bite, such as an anaphylactic shock, they need immediate medical attention. Doctors treat anaphylactic shock with:
- intravenous fluids
- intravenous antihistamine
If someone is experiencing anaphylactic shock, epinephrine auto-injectors, such as an EpiPen, can reduce the symptoms and prevent death. As centipede bites are uncommon, though, a person may not know that they are allergic to centipede venom until they receive a bite. As a result, they may not have an epinephrine auto-injector available.
People with centipede bites may experience local reactions in the affected area, but the symptoms will typically resolve within a few hours to a few days.
In some situations, underlying diseases may affect the outlook of a person with a centipede bite. For example, people with diabetes may experience more severe skin reactions and infections following a centipede bite.
In cases of anaphylactic shock, clinical signs are likely to improve without long-term consequences if a person receives prompt treatment. Doctors may prescribe an epinephrine auto-injector and suggest avoiding centipedes.
Millipedes protect themselves by secreting a toxic liquid from glands on the side of their body. The liquid causes a corrosive-like effect on the skin, and people may experience burning and redness in the affected area. Doctors can prescribe topical pain relievers and antibiotics if necessary.
Washing the area with soap and water immediately after exposure to the millipede toxin may help reduce symptoms.
The toxic liquid can sometimes cause a local color change of the skin. The affected area may become brown or black, and this color change can last for months.
People who get the toxic liquid from a millipede in their eyes may experience more severe effects. Ulcers may develop on the cornea, or the eye may become infected. People must consult an ophthalmologist for treatment if this occurs. Treatment can include:
- eye irrigation
- fluorescein staining
- topical antibiotics
- cycloplegic drugs
Centipedes rarely bite humans, but when they do, it is usually because they feel threatened.
Most people will only experience short-term pain, skin inflammation, and redness following a centipede bite. However, some people may be allergic to the venom that the centipede injects into the skin.
Unless the person is experiencing a severe allergic reaction, medical attention is not usually necessary for a centipede bite.
Pain relievers and anti-itch medications may help soothe the discomfort of a centipede bite. The effects of the bite will usually disappear within a few hours to a few days.
Centipede bites typically do not cause long lasting effects.