Man OK After Airborne Scorpion Bite

The scorpion bit David Sullivan on the back of his right leg, just below the knee, crawled up through his crotch and down his left leg, he thinks, before getting him again in the shin. Not what he was expecting on his flight home from Chicago to Vermont.

Sullivan, a 46-year-old builder from Stowe, was aboard the United Airlines flight as the second leg of his trip home from San Francisco, where he and his wife Helena had been visiting their sons. He awoke from a nap shortly before landing and noticed something strange.

"My right leg felt like it was asleep, but that was isolated to one spot, and it felt like it was being jabbed with a sharp piece of plastic or something."

The second sting came after the plane had landed and the Sullivans were waiting for their bags at the luggage carousel. Sullivan rolled up his cuff to investigate, and the scorpion fell out.

"It felt like a shock, a tingly thing. Someone screamed, 'It's a scorpion,'" Sullivan recalled. Another passenger stepped on the two-inch arachnid. Someone suggested Sullivan seek medical help.

He scooped up the scorpion as a specimen and headed to the hospital in Burlington. Mrs. Sullivan stopped at the United counter and was told the plane they were on had flown from Houston to Chicago. The Sullivans surmised the scorpion boarded in Texas.

"The airlines tell you you can't bring water or shampoo on a plane," Mrs. Sullivan said, referring to recent security restrictions. "All the security we go through" apparently didn't apply to the scorpion, she said.

United spokeswoman Robin Urbanski said the incident "is something that we will investigate and look into. We're very sorry for what happened. Our customer safety and security is our No. 1 priority."

Scorpion bites are rarely fatal, most often only to babies and older people with other medical problems, said Dr. Stephen Leffler, director of emergency services at Burlington's Fletcher Allen Health Care hospital.

"We don't see many scorpion bites in Vermont," Leffler said. Last week's prompted him to do some research. To a healthy adult, a scorpion bite can mean numbness or shooting pain extending out from the bite, or flu-like symptoms, which Sullivan said he had the next day.

"You're much more likely to die from an ... allergic reaction to a bee sting," the doctor said.

Sullivan said he was taking the experience in stride. "I've traveled enough in tropical climates, Argentina, South America, to know about the risks from insects and animals and microorganisms. ... It's a dangerous world out there."

He said he hadn't seen the recent movie, "Snakes on a Plane," starring Samuel L. Jackson. "I'm pretty selective about what I see," Sullivan said. "Maybe I have to see it now."


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