Biblical Plague of Deadly Scorpions Injures Hundreds, Kills 3 in Egypt

  • First you house gets flooded with water, then scorpions. Sounds amazing.

Recent intense storms in Egypt in Egypt have caused a deadly flood to plow through several cities in south-central Egypt. But unlike what you might think, this flood isn’t made up of just water.

The heavy rains, dust storms, and snow in Aswan have driven possibly thousands of scorpions on the move. And they aren’t just harmless arachnids — the scorpions in question are known as deathstalkers.

These scorpions, some of the deadliest animals on the planet, have sadly lived up to their name. As they rampaged through the region to escape rising water, they wreaked havoc on the towns they passed through.

At least three people have died from scorpion stings, and possibly 500 more have been injured, reported local Al-Ahram news channel. Ehab Hanafy, undersecretary of the health ministry in the Aswan governorate, said most of the injured have been hospitalized.

He added that hospitals around the region are on red alert. The authorities have also called on doctors to return to work from vacations.

Aswan Governor Ashraf Attia temporarily suspended traffic on both highways and the River Nile due to both the storm and the scorpions. He urged residents to stay at home and avoid places where they could get hurt by wind, rain, or angry arachnids.

Photos from Wikimedia Commons.

‘Allah, Protect the Land’

The various kinds of extreme weather created a perfect storm for people to get stung. The intense rain and flooding ran people out of their houses, especially in rural areas, in search for dry land.

Unfortunately, the scorpions did just the same. When left competing for safe places, the deathstalkers started responding to people the only way they know how.

“The floods in the villages of Aswan forced the scorpions out of their hide-outs, and they stung some people. O Allah, protect the land,” the administrator of a local community news channel wrote on Facebook.

According to officials, hospitals in the area had sufficient antivenom to treat those who’d gotten stung. Unfortunately, that did little to help the residents of the remote areas where the scorpions were the most active.

Those Who Stalk Death

The deathstalker — scientifically known as Leiurus quinquestriatus — is one of the 24 scorpions that are common in Egyptian deserts. And it’s also the meanest out of the bunch.

The scorpions aren’t called deathstalkers for nothing. They’re some of the most dangerous animals on the planet, killing upwards of 3,000 people every single year.

Their sting is extremely painful, but the agony is the least of your worries. Their venom consists of a potent cocktail of neurotoxins that can utterly ravage the human body.

Among the initial symptoms of deathstalker envenomation are nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever, headaches, and abdominal cramps. If it kills you, it’s most likely because the venom filled your lungs with fluid and caused them to collapse.

Even in healthy adults, a deathstalker’s sting is a medical emergency. It is treatable, but requires large amount of antivenom — which can be hard to come by in the middle of the desert.

Still, Egyptians are remarkably chill about the scorpions. We suppose that’s what you have to do if you live around these things.

“We’re just used to it. We just hit them with something when we see them,” said Islam Mohamed, a ferry captain from Aswan, told The New York Times.

Deadly But Useful

Scorpion experts, however, say that people shouldn’t even do that. According to Dr. Mohamed, Abdel-Rahman, a molecular toxicology professor at Suez Canal University, killing deathstalkers is just a waste.

“I’m very, very sad when people kill scorpions because the venom of scorpions is very rich and useful,” he lamented.

Much like snakes, medical researchers milk scorpions — including deathstalkers — for their venom. But they need a lot of scorpions for that, since 3,000 of the arachnids produce only one gram of venom.

But it’s all well worth it, said Abdel-Rahman. That single gram of scorpion venom can be worth $8,000.

Laboratories can process the venom into antivenom to treat stings. But there are other applications as well — research has found that deathstalker venom could be an effective treatment for brain tumors.

Guess that makes sense. If the stuff kills you, it ought to kill tumors as well.

Abdel-Rahman adds that unless the deathstalkers are agitated — by an oncoming flood, for example — they can be handled relatively safely. Case in point, he’s researched scorpions for 20 years and has never gotten stung.

“Professionals can catch the scorpions [by] the tail by hand. But I don’t recommend doing that,” he said.