Edmonton

Doctors reveal case of Alberta woman who died after stepping on venomous caterpillars

An Alberta woman who died of caterpillar-induced bleeding is at the centre of a teaching case published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal by the team of Edmonton doctors who treated her.

An Alberta woman who died of caterpillar-induced bleeding is at the centre of a teaching case published Monday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal by the team of Edmonton doctors who treated her.

The 22-year old woman died last year, ten days after stepping barefoot on five caterpillars while on a trip to northeastern Peru.

She immediately felt burning pain in her right foot which spread up to her thigh. The pain in her foot got worse when she walked on it.  But the foot pain and an accompanying headache went away over the next 12 hours, so she didn't see a doctor. 

When she returned to Canada, she was treated by doctors at the University of Alberta hospital.  She had extensive bruising on her legs.

After searching through online databases, doctors realized the woman's symptoms may have been caused by venom from the caterpillars she stepped on.  The venom from these particular caterpillars causes excessive bleeding in humans. Once her Canadian doctors determined what caused her illness, they contacted physicians in Brazil for advice.  

Arrangements were made to get a South American antivenin treatment to Canada.  However, it took 48 hours for the antivenin to get to Edmonton, and by the time it was given to the young woman it was too late.

The woman died from multi-organ failure three days after being admitted to hospital — and 10 days after she stepped on the caterpillars.

The report's authors advise that Canadian doctors can expect to see more exotic diseases now that adventure travel has become more popular.

They say doctors must quickly recognize and work with experienced clinicians to ensure patients get the specialized treatment they might need.

With files from the Canadian Press