The Claim and Our Verdict
- The claim: An article published May 6, 2021, claims that an iodine tincture should not be used to disinfect the wounds of centipede bites.
- Centipede bites cause open wounds.
- Iodine tincture contains alcohol.
- Open wounds should not be treated with alcohol, because it can damage the skin tissue, slow healing, and delay recovery.
- Our ruling: Therefore, we rate the claim as TRUE.
An article published May 6, 2021, by online media outlet UrbanLife claims that a lady from Changzhou, a prefecture-level city in eastern China, was bitten by a centipede hidden in her clothes and sent to doctors, but later died. In the article, Dr. Yang Fan, the doctor in charge in the emergency department of Yanghu branch of Changzhou No.2 people’s hospital, recommended, “if bitten by a centipede, before seeking medical attention, you should use water, or better yet, sodium bicarbonate, to wash the wound on site, so as to neutralise the acidic venom of the centipede. After washing and bandaging the wound, you should not apply iodine tincture or other disinfectant to the wounds.”
However, other articles claim a centipede bite should be immediately disinfected with iodine tincture or alcohol.
HKBU FactCheck Service sent an inquiry to Dr. George P.H. Leung, an associate professor in the department of Pharmacology and Pharmacy at the University of Hong Kong. Leung replied July 5, 2021, and wrote in an email: 1) centipede venom contains peptide toxins; 2) iodine tincture is a mixture of ethanol (i.e. alcohol) and water and contains 2% to 7% iodine and potassium iodide or sodium iodide, which can be used as a bactericide to kill micro-organisms or bacteria; 3) centipede venom and iodine tincture (or alcohol) are not mutually exclusive, meaning the toxicity of centipede venom is not increased by iodine tincture or alcohol. As for whether iodine tincture should be applied to disinfect wounds of centipede bites, Leung explained, “Theoretically iodine tincture should not be applied to an open wound (it should be open still right after the bite) because it contains alcohol. Alcohol may affect the process of healing if it is an open wound and will probably be harmful to skin tissue, according to some medical experts.”
Moreover, WebMD published a guidance of wound care on May 27, 2020. One of the slides in the article claims, “Using hydrogen peroxide or rubbing alcohol to clean an injury can actually harm the tissue and delay healing. The best way to clean a minor wound is with cool running water and mild soap. Rinse the wound for at least five minutes to remove dirt, debris, and bacteria. Wounds that are large, deep, or bleeding nonstop should be treated by a professional.” It supports the claim that an open wound should not been treated with alcohol.
Keyword searches also found plenty of online Q&A’s regarding this issue, including those from Baidu’s “Answers from Prestigious Doctors” and “Youlai Doctor”, a Chinese knowledge sharing platform in the medical field. In general, doctors suggest using alcohol to disinfect only skin surface or surrounding areas of the open wounds. Alcohol is an effective disinfectant as well as a strongly irritant material, which will cause severe physical pain and potential mental side effects. It will also irritate subcutaneous tissue, cause protein denaturation, affect the rehabilitation of granulation tissue, and ultimately slow down the wound healing process. It should be noted that povidone iodine, which does not contain alcohol, can be used on open wounds.
Therefore, we rate the claim as TRUE.
- UrbanLife, “Centipede Bites – Lady Died of Shock and Asphyxiation after Being Bitten by a Centipede; Know Onsite Treatment of the Wounds and Don’t Use Iodine Tincture for Disinfection,” May 6, 2021.
- WebMD, “Wound Care True or False,” May 27, 2020.
- Youlai Doctor, reference 1, May 29, 2019.
- Youlai Doctor, reference 2, November 12, 2020.
- Baidu, Answers from Prestigious Doctors by Baidu 1, December 4, 2020.
- Baidu, Answers from Prestigious Doctors by Baidu 2, August 11, 2020.