There are many misconceptions about the barbs of catfish and the puncture wounds. Yes, they are slightly painful but are not lethal. We clear up some of these myths and address proper treatment.
Catfish stings are all too common among those who fish. They are often referred to as stings, however, the catfish does not have a stinger. Fresh and saltwater catfish have three barbs that have an attached spike protuberance that can lay flat or become erect and can puncture. One of these is attached to the dorsal fin and the other two are on the pectoral fins on the side of the fish near the head. The venom glands are along the serrated edges of the spine which is encased by a thin layer of skin.
This author has caught many catfish over the years. Weekends in the summer were spent with bank poles, jugs and trout lines. It would not be uncommon to catch well over one hundred over a given weekend. Needless to say, I have been punctured many times. I survived and did well.
The venom will create a burning pain and redness and swelling will ensue. This is usually transient and lasts no longer than 48 hours. The saltwater catfish puncture is usually more severe and has a tendency to become infected more often. The most common organism in salt water infections is the Vibrio organism and in freshwater it is Aeromonas. When getting an infection, it can include many organisms and is considered polymicrobial.