Experts warn of dangers of handling catfish after 9-year-old boy stabbed by barb in Pasco County

A child was airlifted to the hospital after being stabbed in the chest by a catfish barb in Pasco County. The boy’s mother pulled over on the side of U.S. 19 in New Port Richey to call 911. The trauma alert came in Monday around 12:45 p.m.

The boy's mother said to 911 operators that the spine punctured the 9-year-old’s chest about an inch-and-a-half deep. She said he was having trouble breathing, his chest was swelling, and he was shaking.

In Florida, we have both freshwater and saltwater catfish species, and all of them have spine-like fin rays that are sharp enough to pierce your skin.

"There's two on their pectoral fins, which are the side fins, and then there's one on their dorsal fin which at the top of their body," explained Tyson Facto, supervisor of Herps and Aquatics at ZooTampa at Lowry Park.

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It is a natural weapon meant for self-defense underwater, that can make handling or fishing for catfish dangerous.  The spines are coated in a toxin that can cause mild to severe injuries like painful throbbing or lacerations.

"So they have little glands all alongside the edge of the spine. So when it does puncture in, it's actually releasing a little bit of venom in there, which gives it a burning, stinging sensation," Facto said.

Usually, a catfish prick happens on the hands or feet.  People who fish know how careful you have to be when holding a catfish.

Tommy Rosado said he has reeled in a few catfish and also been stung before. Now, he is teaching his grandkids how to avoid the painful injury.

"I have a little towel, pin him down, and I have a tool that helps me remove the hook from his mouth," Rosado said.

It is not clear exactly how the little boy in New Port Richey was stabbed by the catfish barb. He was flown to St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa. At last check, he was stable and recovering.