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Poison fish victim tells of her agony; Mother stung while out on a beach walk.

Byline: Dan Warburton

AWALKER yesterday told how she suffered excruciating pain after being poisoned by venomous fish on a Northumberland beach.

Angela Nicholls, 62, rushed to find medical treatment after she was stung by a weeverfish, one of the most venomous fish in Britain, and not usually found on North East beaches at this time of year.

She was walking with her friend, Ruth Hawkins, when the pair came across a fish buried in the sand at Low Hauxley, near Amble, Northumberland.

When they tried to help the stricken creature, it shot its spines into the air and sent poison into Mrs Nicholls' thumb. She required immediate medical attention for the sting from a doctor.

Last night mother-of-one Mrs Nicholls, who was stung just days before the end of a fortnight's visit to Amble, said: "I was scared because you don't expect to get stung by a fish in English waters.

"We just saw the dog pawing at the sand so we went over and saw this fish buried. Three little spines shot out and stabbed me in the thumb.

"It was excruciating and it wouldn't go away. I had no idea what it was, I've never heard of a venomous fish before.

"The doctor who saw us said he had been there since the 90s and he had never seen them before. I was scared because I didn't know what was happening."

Mrs Nicholls suffered the attack just days before she was meant to return to her home in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, and as she walked on the beach with her two-year-old pet poodle Sooty.

Last night Mrs Hawkins, 61, who works at Newcastle's Royal Victoria Infirmary as a healthcare assistant and lives in Amble, said: "She was in agonising pain.

"We were worried it was dangerous so we went to the pharmacy in Amble but they didn't know what it was so we went to the GP and they had to look on the internet."

The weeverfish has sharp spines laced with venom along its dorsal fin which stick up out of the sand, where it hides.

The nerve poison injected into victims brings pain lasting several hours, often causes people''s limbs to swell and in extreme cases can lead to temporary paralysis. Irritation can last for two weeks. Treatment involves placing the limb in hot water to break down the toxins in the blood.

Last night Christopher Sweeting, of Newcastle University's School of Marine Science and Technology, said: "They tend to be warm water species and they are much more common in the English Channel.

"Particularly towards the end of the summer months we can get a fair number of them. It would be unusual to get them in shallow water at this time of the year. "They have long spines on the top of their body and they use them as an anti-predatory defence. They stand them up in the air and create a venomous injection.

"They bury themselves in the sand in really dense patches. They are hopeless swimmers and they try to cover most of the body in sand.

"To handle them is a mistake, though. They are among the most painful stings in UK marine life. They are one of the more dangerous fishes because they come in water that is really shallow.

"A sting will hurt a lot. It's not fatal unless you have a heart complaint but even then it would be a heart complaint that caused death which was triggered by the sting.

"They have a neurotoxin which breaks down when it's warmer. That's why the best thing to do is put it in water as hot as you can bear."


VENOMOUS Left, a weeverfish. Right, Angela Nicholls with dog Sooty LOOK OUT Ruth Hawkins on Low Hauxley beach, Northumberland, where her friend Angela Nicholls was stung by a toxic weeverfish
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 4, 2011
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