2 children rushed to hospital after scorpion stings

Linda Helser The Arizona Republic Apr. 6, 2006 12:00 AM

Two Phoenix children were being treated Wednesday for life-threatening scorpion stings.

One child was scheduled to be released from the intensive care unit at Phoenix Children's Hospital later in the day while the other is still on a ventilator and not expected to go home until Friday.

That child, 2-year-old Sonja Rawlings, was snuggled up in bed on Tuesday night with her parents when she suddenly began to cry.

"She wouldn't stop and was grabbing at her leg," said her dad, Jason, 30. "We figured she's been bitten by something, so we started looking through the sheets."

That's when Rawlings, who lives in an apartment complex near 19th Avenue and Thunderbird Road, happened to look up.

A scorpion was clinging to the ceiling directly over the bed.

Near 35th Avenue and Buckeye Road, 7-year-old Sammy Puente Jr. was putting his sneakers out on the porch when he stepped on something.

"He came running in the house screaming that a scorpion had bit him," said his dad, Sammy Sr., 32. "His grandmother found the scorpion and killed it."

Although scorpions used to be active primarily from April to October, they tend to be on the move year-round in the Valley, said Ann-Marie Krueger, education and community-relations coordinator for the Banner Poison Control Center.

"But right now, at spring, they're on the upswing," she said.

Because both families were fortunate enough to see what had stung their children, they sought attention. Swelling or inflammation at the site of the sting is generally not apparent.

"Young children are more likely to have a serious reaction to a scorpion sting," said Paul Bakerman, the pediatric critical-care doctor who treated Sammy.

Symptoms doctors look for include uncontrollable arm and leg movements, erratic eye movements and secretion from the mouth, such as salivation. Both Sammy and Sonja suffered from all three symptoms.

"What we have to do is sedate them and put them on a ventilator because they need help breathing," Bakerman said.

"During the 1940s and 1950s, the Number 1 cause of death in Arizona resulting from a bite was from a scorpion," said Steven Curry, a doctor with the Arizona Department of Medical Toxicology at Banner Good Samaritan Medical Center.

"And almost all of those were children because with scorpions and venom, it's all a matter of body size," he said. "And it doesn't matter where the sting is (on the body). The result is the same."

Now, he added, with supportive care from intensive-care units, emergency rooms and paramedics, the numbers have dwindled to fewer than one death every few years. "Many more would have died without that supportive care," he said.

Until several years ago, Bakerman said, sting victims were treated with antivenin and would recover within approximately 60 minutes. "But the guy at Arizona State University who provided that for us retired, and we didn't get any more, so we can only do supportive care."

Development of another antivenin, Bakerman said, is under way in Mexico.

Curry said the Banner Poison Control Center gets 20 to 30 calls a day on scorpion stings. He said most will cause no problem. But children younger than 10 are at most risk for a dangerous reaction.

Although there are some 56 different types of scorpions, it is the bark scorpion that can be so deadly.

"They are about 2 inches long when full grown, and what distinguishes them is they can climb really well and flatten themselves out to the width of a credit card," Krueger said.

They are nocturnal, and they love to dine on crickets but can live for a year without food or water and are very difficult to kill with pesticides.

"Killing the crickets won't get rid of them, and if an exterminator tells you they can get rid of the scorpions, get it in writing," she said.

Caulking cracks may be the most effective means to keep them out, and spraying them directly with liquid insecticide when spotted.

"Or go get a really mean cat because cats don't tend to react to their venom," Krueger said. "And chickens and ducks like to eat them."

But Sammy knows exactly how he'll deal with the next scorpion that crosses his path.

"I'll squish it," said the first-grader at Jack L. Kuban Elementary School.

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