Echinoderm Envenomation Follow-up
- Author: Scott A Gallagher, MD, FACEP; Chief Editor: Joe Alcock, MD, MS more...
Starfish (Asteroidea) and sea urchins (Echinoidea)
Most injuries and envenomations caused by starfish and sea urchins result from inadvertently stepping upon or carelessly handling them. Wading in bare feet in turbid waters, especially at night, should be avoided. While shoes, diving booties, and wet suits may provide some protection, each is easily penetrated by the sharp long spines of the crown-of-thorns starfish and many species of urchin.
The use of thick gloves is recommended if one must handle the crown-of-thorns starfish or any of the sharp-spined sea urchins. This also applies to many sea cucumber species and short-spined sea urchins, particularly the flower urchin (Toxopneustes pileolus), that do not need to produce a puncture wound to envenomate.
Sea cucumbers (Holothuroidea)
The toxins contained in the body wall and white Cuvierian tubules extruded from the anus of some species of sea cucumber may cause significant ocular irritation. Therefore, divers should not clear their masks in close vicinity to a disturbed sea cucumber or touch their eyes after handling sea cucumbers.
Whether significant dermal irritation occurs after contact is debatable (conflicting data are available). Several sources report vigorous inflammatory reactions following direct skin contact with Cuvierian tubules and recommend against touching the white tubules extruded from the anus of some sea cucumbers. Other experts report extensive personal experience and island customs involving direct contact with no adverse effects.
Significant local and systemic effects are possible following echinoderm envenomation from any of the 3 venomous classes, starfish (Asteroidea), sea urchins (Echinoidea), and sea cucumbers (Holothuroidea). However, a clear link between echinoderm envenomation and death (other than subsequent drowning) cannot be found in the literature, despite several anecdotal reports of fatalities.[4, 2, 5, 6] Detailed documentation is sparse, and death must be very rare. This is in contrast to poisoning or intoxication following ingestion of certain echinoderms, which has been well documented to result in severe illness and fatality.
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