Since the 1990’s lionfish have been propagating throughout the east coast United States and beyond. It’s suspected the problem began when some aquarium hobbyists or a hurricane released several lionfish off the east coast of Florida. Although native to the Indian and Pacific Oceans, lionfish have no known predators in the Atlantic and Caribbean. As a result, they have flourished unchecked for years. Their reproduction rates are staggering, females lay millions of eggs each year. The first sightings in the Caribbean began around 2004 and since they have quickly spread. To fight this invasive species, scuba divers have begun hunting lionfish in an attempt to control their populations and protect the oceans reefs (including yours truly, although I’ve been told by other lionfish hunters if my livelihood depended on my ability to find and catch lionfish, my family and I would starve). Beyond a voracious appetite for anything half their size and smaller, they possess venomous spines which can cause excruciating pain should one have the unfortunate luck to be impaled. Further, envenomation can cause tissue necrosis and in extremely rare cases, death. The most common part of the body to be injured is the hand and fingers.
The thing about lionfish is how hardy they are, they seem to survive in a wide range of depths, and wide range of temperatures and a wide range of salinity. Consequently, lionfish are not only spreading south, but are also migrating north. Reports have lionfish sightings as far north as Rhode Island and even Massachusetts!
So what to do if someone presents with a lionfish envenomation?
- Although respiratory involvement is uncommon, monitor ABC’s and treat any respiratory difficulty appropriately.
- Rinse the affected area with soap and water; remove any obvious debris from the affected area. Rarely do lionfish spines remain in the wound, but if there are any, be careful to not impale yourself, use a stiff piece of plastic or something similar to gently scrape away any debris. Place any spines in a sharps box or puncture resistant container, do not dispose of venomous spines in the trash!
- Immerse the affected area in hot water, as hot and as long as the person can tolerate (110⁰ F for 30-90 minutes). You don’t want to cause additional injury by burning the patient, but heat denatures the venomous protein.
If you’re interested in eating some of these delicious fish, click this link to find a restaurant near you!
Click here to learn more about their invasion in the Atlantic and Caribbean.