Healthcare, Insurance

Stung by a Scorpion


I just looked at a map that shows the range of scorpions and it looks like they are all over the USA, Mexico, Central and South America. Only Canada seems to be scorpion-free although I must confess I never saw one in Illinois in all the years I lived there. But like the Southwestern US, there are plenty of them where I live in the mountains of central Mexico.

The scorpions here tend to be small and reddish, maybe 3 to 7 centimeters (about an inch or an inch and a half) typically, and our local variety isn’t considered life threatening. But they do end up in the house, and it is recommended that you shake out towels and clothing before using them and shake out your shoes.

In my house they seem to like the kitchen best, and sometimes there will be one in the sink when I wake up. So, I should have known better than to reach into the sink to remove a couple of plates I’d left there overnight. Ouch! There was a sharp burning pain on my first knuckle. I shook my hand and looked, but there wasn’t much to see. It just hurt like hell. I didn’t even have to lift the plates to know what had happened. In a moment of carelessness I’d been stung by a scorpion. Now I’d have to take quick action.

While there are almost 2,000 species of scorpions, only 30 or 40 have venom strong enough to kill a person. However, the greater threat is having an allergic reaction and ensuing anaphylactic shock. So it is best to act conservatively and get immediate medical attention. And because scorpion stings are fairly common around here, I was prepared with an antihistamine that I took immediately. The doctors who treated me pointed out, the antihistamine won’t really solve the potential problem, but it can delay the effects of an allergic reaction long enough to get you to more serious treatment, so I always keep them on hand.

The town I live in is so small that it doesn’t have a hospital. We could have made the trip to the city that’s about 30 or 40 minutes away, but we decided against that in favor of a small public clinic that we’d seen many times before but never been inside. Our reasoning was that they probably get a lot of scorpion stings there, and we were right.

We knew that the clinic probably had some government affiliation, but it was only later that we learned it was run by the federal government as part of the “Seguro Popular” system that offers a limited range of medical care for those who aren’t covered under the IMSS, ISSSTE or other medical care system in Mexico.

Typically the people served by Seguro Popular are the poorest citizens, those who would otherwise find the services offered such as family planning, pre-natal monitoring, diabetes, blood-pressure and cancer screenings, etc. absolutely unaffordable. In fact, in my book, The English Speaker’s Guide to Medical Care in Mexico, I don’t recommend that foreigners use the Seguro Popular system at all because it is intended for poor people. The only exception, I suggest, is emergency care. And here I was facing an emergency.

One of the complaints you sometimes hear about the public system is that it is crowded, that there are long waits. But when my partner and I entered the modern building in mid-afternoon, it was basically empty. Within minutes I was under observation and warned that I might be for an hour or more until it was clear I wasn’t reacting to the venom. Every ten or fifteen minutes a staff member checked on me, asking me to report even the slightest changes in my nose, throat or breathing.

Mostly, I had nothing to report. But then, after about an hour I felt a very strong sensation in my nasal passages. It was like that intense feeling you get just before a sneeze, only this wasn’t followed by sneezing. I told the doc and I was immediately taken to a bright, clean ward and told to lie on the bed. In less than a minute I was given a vial of anti-venom through a vein in my hand. Other than the small prick of the needle, I felt no pain, no sensation at all. The nose tickles stopped and I was soon on my way.

Because of the research I’ve done on the cost of medical care, I was aware that that little vial of potentially lifesaving anti-venom I’d just received would typically cost about $100 USD at any hospital in Mexico. People sometimes need more that one vial.

Remarkably, that same vial of anti-venom would cost between $7,900 and $12,467 USD in the USA.

It sounds like I’m making that up doesn’t it? I’m not. Here’s a story about a woman who was treated for a scorpion sting in Phoenix. It took 2 vials and she was billed a whopping $83,047 USD. Her insurance company only picked up $57,509.

Ironic isn’t it? The US medical system is so broken that even someone with insurance is left to pay $25,000 USD out of pocket.

Everyone in Mexico gets treated better than that.

Monica Rix Paxson is an expert in the field of Mexico healthcare. She is author of the English Speaker’s Guide to Medical Care in Mexico, and co-author of The English Speaker’s Guide to Doctors & Hospitals in MexicoeBooks available for immediate downloadShe resides full-time in Mexico.


  1. Monica Rix Paxson says

    While I’m all for trying home remedies (including mud) for many things, I don’t think scorpion stings should be one of them. There are so many different kinds and sizes. You can discover how people typically react to the local scorpions, but there is always going to be someone who has an unexpectedly sever reaction and that can easily be life threatening. Why take a chance, especially in Mexico where there is an affordable antidote?

  2. c doyle says

    I have been stung 3 times by a scorp at my home in LaManz….3 times I immediately covered with mud. took it easy for the next 3 hrs. took no stimulants and had no serious reactions. Mud is the best for wasp, bee and other insect bites. I do not have severe allergic reactions to stings so that is a plus.

  3. John Rutledge says

    Now that we live in Mexico and have experienced the quality of medical and dental here, and the costs, we would never consider medical care in the US. In fact, if we are visiting there and need care, unless it is a matter of survival, we would pay for an emergency flight back rather than submit to the abusive prices. It is sad when our friends back home undergo procedures in the US and do not come visit. Even when they have coverage, their payment portion generally costs far more than the cost of a flight here, where the care is superior, kinder, cheaper, and they can recuperate in the palm trees.

  4. Mike says

    The US medical system is sooooo broken.

    After a bat brushed my daughter’s eye while backpacking in the the Grand Canyon, we took her to an emergency room in Flagstaff where she was administered the first in a series of rabies shots. The bill came to thousands of dollars, of which our medical insurance covered only about 60%

    Their fees were several times the cost of subsequent shots we acquired at a hospital and at a clinic in Colorado. Only after I raised holy hell with the Flagstaff hospital, and filed a complaint with the Attorney General and threatened the hospital with pubic exposure did they write off my portion of the bill. What a disgusting and corrupt rip-off!

    The US healthcare system is soooo broken, and a poor country like Mexico shows how much better it should be.

  5. Denise says

    Before retiring one evening I put the covers down on our bed, slid my hand under my pillow to pull the sheet down and felt a sting. Ouch! I immediately called the fire department and was told to watch for any signs of anaphalactic shock. Other than my little finger numb in a very small spot I had no reaction.

  6. Monica Rix Paxson says

    I’m glad the garlic cure worked for you Jeannie. I’ve heard several folk remedies here in Mexico including eating the tail of the scorpion that stung you. But while I appreciate that many people have no choice but to rely on such methods, on the remote chance you’re the one that reacts dramatically, it is a good idea to get medical attention if at all possible. I didn’t really want to go to the clinic because if you don’t react, a scorpion sting isn’t much worse than a wasp or bee sting. But I’m glad I went and I’m very grateful for the care I got.

  7. agnes ferguson says

    I hope you left a donation you could afford to the clinic to replace the anti venom so a few more poor people can be treated! You could also buy some anti venom and donate it to the clinic. When you have the means it is only fair.

  8. Michel says

    Yes, there are scorpions in Canada, in what is called “The pocket desert”, the only desert in Canada. It is in the south Okanagan, about 60 miles north of the US border, the nearest towns are Oliver and Osoyoos.

    • Tim says

      They are also in Southern Sask. the northern or boreal scorpion (family Vaejovidae, Paruroctonus boreus) is the only species that occurs in Canada (southern Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia). It is about 5 cm long and has a 2-year life cycle.

  9. Jeannie says

    I live in a very rural area in Mexico, far from a hospital or town. I was stung by a scorpion last year and went to a neighbors….she started cutting up cloves of garlic and had me eat lots of garlic and drink about a gallon of water……….I had no problem at all with the sting……….All medical treatment here has been wonderful. The local doctors even come to the house. My husband needed IV drips and that was done at home ….

  10. Patricia Younstrum says

    I totally agree. I also have been the recipient of emergency medical care in Mexico and found it to be exemplary. I have since that time moved my routine medical care to Mexico, where the doctors see you within minutes of your appointment time, treat you as a person rather than a specimen, and actually give you their cell phone number should you have questions or concerns once you leave their office. The costs of medications here are pennies on the dollar to those of the US, and the drugs are of the same manufacturer. It is a most refreshing change in patient care, and the costs, as you noted, are well below what the US insurance co-pays are.

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