A 17-month-old girl was admitted to an Arizona hospital when she started showing symptoms of tremors and excessive sweating, reactions doctors initially thought were the result of a scorpion sting. After antivenom administration was unable to make the child well, attending physicians discovered the real reason behind her ailment–an overdose of methamphetamine.
This is not the first time a child in Arizona has presented with meth overdose and been misdiagnosed with a scorpion sting. Researchers who wrote the case report on the 17-month-old indicate such instances of mistaken diagnosis occur for two main reasons: stings from the Centruroides sculpturatus scorpion (bark scorpion) are common in Arizona, and the symptoms of both meth overdose and scorpion sting are very similar.
“These [symptoms] include some movement disorders, and movement of upper and lower extremities, and some foaming at the mouth,” study co-author Dr. Farshad Shirazi of University of Arizona College of Medicine told Live Science.
The child was admitted to the hospital with a high fever, tremors, excessive sweating, and excessive salivation. When her mother was asked about the presence of scorpions around the home, she indicated to hospital staff she had indeed seen the venomous arachnid on the property. Because of how common scorpion stings are in the area, and because of how improbable it was for the child to have overdosed on meth, doctors began antivenom treatment.
A potentially deadly sting for children
The bark scorpion in Arizona, New Mexico and California is known to be one of the most toxic scorpions in the country. According to the Mayo Clinic, stings from this creature can be deadly in children, and those stung typically present in hospital with signs of uncontrollable crying, jittery eye movement and excessive salivation.
Initially, some of the girl’s symptoms improved after receiving bottles of antivenom, a phenomenon researchers feel is attributed to the protein in the medication bonding with methamphetamine molecules. The exact reason, however, remains unclear, and only the symptoms of uncontrollable eye movements and salivation improved. The child still retained a high fever, tremors, and elevated heart rate. In addition to certain unresponsiveness to treatment, the child had no visible sting marks on her body.
After doctors performed a urine test, it became clear meth was the issue, not a scorpion sting. The patient’s mother then told staff her daughter had been left alone with an aunt who had a history of meth use, though it was not clear how the child ingested the illicit substance.
Researchers indicate the area of Arizona the child was from was known for its high prevalence of meth. “…there is a predominance of methamphetamine in the same geographic area of the U.S., as the endemic locale of the C. sculpturatus,” the doctors wrote in the report. “Arrestee data show stable rates of testing positive for methamphetamines in the western and southwestern United States versus the rest of the country, which reveals [their] geographic predominance and areas with higher rates of use.”
Meth overdose can have a number of different symptoms. The addiction treatment facility Vantage Point notes meth overdose may result in: stroke, seizures, heart attack, coma, organ failure, chest pain, muscles spasms, increase in body temperature, and difficulty breathing, among others.