Scorpion Stings Are Becoming More Frequent in Brazil

CC BY 2.0. José Roberto Peruca -- A yellow scorpion (Tityus serrulatus) in São Paulo state, Brazil

Experts blame urban sprawl for the increased number of attacks.

The number of people who have died from scorpion stings has more than doubled in Brazil in the past four years. In 2013 there were 70 reported deaths, and by 2017 the number was 184. The total number of stings has also risen significantly, from 37,000 in 2007 to 126,000 in 2017.

The reason for this, according to The Guardian, is urban sprawl, the shrinking of scorpions' native habitat, and their ability to adapt to new environments. One species in particular, Tityus serrulatus, also known as the yellow scorpion, has become very comfortable living and proliferating in urban drains, sewers, and garbage heaps, where it feeds on cockroaches, a common pest in many Brazilian households. Said Rogério Bertani, a scorpion specialist from São Paulo:

"With deforestation and the increase in urban centres this scorpion is increasing its presence. Contact with human beings is very big. I believe personally this will tend to get worse."

Scorpions are tough creatures. They're built for resilience on a level that surpasses that of most other animals. Take, for instance, the fact that they're parthenogenetic, which means the female does not require fertilization by males in order to breed. They can also live for months without food, thanks to low metabolism.

While a scorpion sting does not result in death automatically, it is more dangerous for the elderly, the young, and anyone with allergies to insect stings. Healthy adults typically do not need anti-venom treatments following a sting, states the Mayo Clinic; but a recent tragic case in São Paulo state saw a four-year-old girl die because there was no anti-venom at her local hospital. This serves as a reminder of how important it is for every hospital to be prepared for emergencies, particularly in places like Brazil where these incidents are becoming more common. A spokeswoman for Brazil's Ministry of Health told The Guardian,

“Deaths by scorpions are most strongly associated with the pediatric age group and poisoning by Tityus Serrulatus. Light cases, which don’t need anti-venom, are 87% of cases.”

Needless to say, if you're heading to Brazil or elsewhere that is home to scorpions, be careful. Shake out shoes, bedding, towels, and clothing before using. Sleep with a mosquito net around your bed and carry an EpiPen if you are allergic to insect bites. Get medical assistance immediately if a child is stung.