Juvenile Octopus Bites Diver

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A fellow diver had collected an empty moon snail shell during a dive. Although the shell's normal inhabitant had moved on, we didn't realize that a juvenile Giant Pacific octopus (Enteroctopus dofleini) had taken up residence in its stead.


The octopus oozed out of the shell and was about to fall between the wooden slats of the bench where the shell had been placed. Some combination of pure excitement and concern for the tiny creature took over and I picked up the octopus without gloves.

Within a few minutes I felt a sharp pinch on the back of my left hand. The octopus had beaked me! I was bitten twice during the walk back to the water to release it. I was surprised by how much my hand bled from what seemed to be a small puncture wound. I rinsed the wound off in the salt water and continued to take pictures of the octopus where it had settled down.

I went on a deep dive that night and upon surfacing immediately felt nauseous and vomited; not something I had ever previously experienced on similar dives. Symptoms resolved soon after. The next morning my hand was significantly swollen and I had lost some mobility. I continued to dive the next two days despite the open wound.

My hand became infected and the bite developed into a lesion about three days later. The lesion (location of bite) was concave and encircled by a raised erythematic zone. The tissue around the lesion became discolored (black-green) about nine days later. The injury was painful, sensitive to touch, and itchy for over a month.

I took an over-the-counter antihistamine and applied crushed AspirinĀ® to the skin surrounding the puncture site. Nothing seemed to provide relief. I did not see a physician until ten days after the bite. I was prescribed two different kinds of antibiotics and antihistamine to manage the wound.

The lesion site took over a month to heal. Symptoms of pain, sensitivity to touch and itching began to appreciably diminish approximately three months later with minor flare ups still presenting four to five months after the incident (usually after exercise or early in the morning). Six months later a small tissue nodule still remains at the lesion site.

Comments

This incident is an excellent reminder of why it is so important to not handle marine life, especially without protection. Although Giant Pacific octopus bites are rare and generally not considered toxic, all octopuses have some varying degree of venom1. Bites from animals of the class Cephalopoda have been reported to cause ulcerous wounds2. The lesion on this diver's hand appears to have progressed to an ulcerous lesion.

It is recommended that any penetrating injury sustained in a marine environment be cleaned thoroughly and medically evaluated. An infection can appear within hours to several weeks following injury and therefore should be monitored for signs of swelling, redness, pain and heat (elevated warmth of the infected area). The diver continued to dive that night and for the next two days. It is recommended that divers not dive with open wounds since bacteria can continue to be introduced, compromising healing and increasing chances of an infection.

Divers should feel comfortable contacting DAN for advice on marine animal bites and injuries. It is important to note that divers should try to provide images of wounds when possible since this can help DAN medical staff evaluate the injury and provide better care. It is important that divers appreciate the risks of interacting with marine life. Handling marine animals can result in bites or more serious injury and should be avoided.

References

1. Fry BG, Roelants JA. Tentacles of venom: toxic protein convergence in the kingdom animalia. J Mol Evol. 2009; 68(4):311-21.
2. Aigner BA, Ollert M, Seifert F, Ring J, Plotz SG. Pseduomonas oryzihabitans cutaneous ulceration from Octopus vugaris bite. Arch Dermatol. 2011;147(8):963-66.


~by Payal Razdan