Bug Blog

Why Is The Scorpion Sting Fatality Rate So Much Higher In Mexico Than In The US?

Unlike other arachnid species, like spiders, mites and ticks, all scorpion species are venomous, and all are capable of inflicting stings to humans that, at the very least, will cause a degree of pain on par with a bee sting. At the worst, a scorpion sting can cause death to a human within a period of 15 minutes, as documented by researchers who studied Indian red scorpion stings. Although it is often said that the world’s most venomous scorpion species resides in the United States, this claim is not true. While it is true that the Arizona bark scorpion possesses potentially deadly venom, there exists several other scorpion species that produce more potent forms of venom than this American species. Not surprisingly, the rate of scorpion sting fatalities is highest in regions where the most venomous scorpions are native. The availability and quality of medical care in different countries also contributes to the scorpion sting fatality rate. Considering these two factors, some countries that contain dangerous scorpion species, but also quality health care, may have a relatively high amount of medically significant cases of scorpion stings, but very few, if any, deaths that result from stings. Considering the widespread and dense population of potentially deadly bark scorpions in the southwest, the US could be considered one of these countries.

The Arizona bark scorpion is the most venomous scorpion in all of North America. This species’ distribution extends throughout the entire Sonoran desert from the southwest US to northwest Mexico. Although the amount of medically significant bark scorpion sting cases that occur each year range in the thousands for both Arizona and Mexico, Mexico sees a far greater amount of bark scorpion sting fatalities than Arizona and other southwestern states. For example, since the late 1960’s, only two bark scorpion sting fatalities have occurred in Arizona, but bark scorpions took the lives of 800 Mexicans in just one single year in 1988. The excessive disparity between the rate of bark scorpion fatalities in Mexico and the US is partly due to a lack of medical centers within large and highly populated areas of Mexico. Although medical care in Mexico is not considered low quality, the country is not as saturated with medical centers and hospitals as the US is, and antivenom may not be available in all Mexican hospitals. The high amount of scorpion envenomations in Mexico also rapidly deplete the amount of antivenom available within Mexican medical facilities. Also, the process of urbanization has not been as rapid in Mexico as it has been in America, as large populations of Mexicans still live in relatively isolated areas where hospitals are scarce. Naturally, it is these rural Mexican populations that are at the greatest risk of succumbing to bark scorpion stings.

Do you believe that the US could do more to decrease the rate of bark scorpion deaths that occur in Mexico?