Gila Monster Bite

Gila monsters are slow-moving lizards that inhabit the desert in the southwestern United States. They possess a venom as potent as rattlesnake venom but lack the apparatus to effectively inject it. Instead of fangs, they simply have short, grooved teeth down which their venom flows. Therefore, envenomation requires a prolonged bite. Gila monsters bite tenaciously and may be difficult to remove from the bitten extremity.

Most bites result in local pain and swelling only, which worsens over several hours and then subsides over several more hours. Dislodged teeth often contaminate the wound. Occasionally, a more severe syndrome of systemic toxicity develops, including weakness, light-headedness, paresthesia, and diaphoresis. Severe hypertension may occur, which also resolves over several hours. There are few if any documented deaths from gila monster bite.

First aid involves removal of the reptile from the bite site without sustaining another bite. This may require force. It helps to place the animal on a solid surface; like other animals, it will often loosen its grip when it is no longer suspended in midair. Otherwise, standard local wound care is sufficient, taking care to remove any teeth in the wound. The usefulness of prophylactic antibiotics is unknown and tetanus status should be determined.

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