Catfish Stings

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.

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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.

Catfish Infections

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.

Catfish Sting/ Puncture Treatment

  1. Try to submerge the effected area into warm water ASAP. The warmth neutralizes the venom and pain lessens rapidly. The temperature should be around 100-110 degrees. The temperature of a mildly uncomfortable hot tub. You will come close to that temp as it gives mild discomfort, yet you can leave your hand submerged. Time should be approximately thirty to sixty minutes.
  2. There is zero research to date to show that any additives to the water like salt, peroxide or any chemicals will help.
  3. DO NOT rub your wound on the slime of the catfish or on the belly of the catfish. Yes, there is some evidence that it may help with pain, however,  you will increase your risk of introducing a bacterial organism as we discussed earlier. Not a good idea.
  4. It’s always a good idea to see if your tetanus is updated.
  5. It is a puncture wound. DO NOT EVER CLOSE A PUNCTURE WOUND.
  6. Over the next few days, you will watch for redness, swelling and warmth which are signs of a cellulitis. If that occurs, seek medical attention for one of the organisms mentioned earlier could be the culprit.