The Grapevine

17-Month-Old Girl's 'Scorpion Sting' Actually Meth Consumption: Why Were Doctors Fooled?

Arizona Bark Scorpion
Doctors confuse toddler's methamphetamine overdose for a "scorpion bite." Mark Preston, CC by 2.0

Methamphetamine was attributed to 103,000 emergency department visits in 2011, making it the fourth most mentioned illicit drug in emergency rooms behind cocaine, marijuana, and heroin. A report published in the journal Case Reports in Emergency Medicine focuses on the case of a 17-month-old girl who was admitted to a hospital in Tucson, Ariz., to receive treatment for symptoms consistent with a venomous scorpion sting, which turned out to be the result of methamphetamine consumption.

"Arrestee data show stable rates of testing positive for methamphetamines in the western and southwestern United States versus the rest of the country, which reveals [their] geographic predominance and areas with higher rates of use," researchers explained in the report.

Co-authors of the case report, Dr. Farshad Shirazi and Dr. Joshua Strommen, highlighted the similarities between the symptoms of a scorpion bite, including movement disorder, movement of upper and lower extremities, and some foaming at the mouth, and symptoms of methamphetamine exposure. The toddler was brought to the emergency department of the hospital with uncontrollable eye movement and tremors. She was also agitated, sweating profusely, salivating excessively, and twitching throughout her entire body.

Doctors were under the impression that her condition was the result of a scorpion bite due to previous work with patients who showed that same symptoms after being bit by the Arizona bark scorpion (Centruroides sculpturatus). "There is a predominance of methamphetamines in the same geographic area of the U.S., as the endemic locale of the C. sculpturatus," the research team reported. The girl’s mother also reported seeing scorpions at their home before the incident.

Doctors were able to alleviate the girl’s uncontrollable eye movements and excessive salivation after administering three vials of anti-venom., LiveScience reported. However, her tremors persisted, her heart rate was still too high, and she was still suffering from a persistent fever. After doctors failed to locate the scorpion sting’s point of entry on the girl’s skin, it was revealed that the girl’s grandmother had left her alone with an aunt who used methamphetamine.

A urine analysis and subsequent blood test confirmed that the girl did, in fact, ingest the drug, but how she ingested it is still unclear. Thankfully the toddler was given treatment for methamphetamine intoxication, recovered from her symptoms, and was discharged from the hospital a week after being admitted. Researchers were surprised that the girl’s symptoms improved after she received anti-venom, since her condition was actually caused by methamphetamine.

Although rare, situations similar to the one featured in this case report are not unheard of in the southwestern United States. This area of the country is not only home to the highest concentration of venomous scorpions, but also the largest methamphetamine seizure ever recorded. Authorities seized around 24,250 pounds of methamphetamine along the U.S.-Mexico southwestern border in 2012.

Source: Strommen J, Shirazi F. Methamphetamine Ingestion Misdiagnosed as Centruroides sculpturatus Envenomation. Case Reports in Emergency Medicine. 2015. 

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