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Travel Health Hypothetical: Dealing with a Jellyfish Sting in Australia

dealing with a jellyfish sting
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This new series of posts will take a look at hypothetical travel health situations and how one should respond in those circumstances. In this case, we will imagine ourselves getting stung by a jellyfish in Australia. Why Australia? It has the distinction of being home to one of the most deadly animals on the planet, the Box Jellyfish. We will approach this scenario not knowing what kind of jellyfish delivered the sting, but we will keep in mind the possibility of a box jellyfish sting and respond accordingly. Ready?

Ok, so you’re swimming along..

.. off the coast of northern Australia. It’s December and there are probably signs on the beach warning you not to enter (from about October to April is the Box Jellyfish season in northern Australia) the water. You enter anyway figuring you can take your chances. About 15 minutes in, you feel something curl around your arm and all of a sudden a sharp stinging sensation takes your breath away. What do you do now?

1. React with the worst case scenario in mind. If you can identify the jellyfish, great. If not, consider the possibility that you’ve been stung by a Box Jelly, especially if you are swimming in affected waters.

box jellyfish

The Box Jellyfish

2. Rinse off any tentacles that are still on your arm. Do this with distilled white vinegar if possible. The acid will neutralize the stinging cells, which can still fire even after they are disconnected from the jellyfish.

Urine does not work to neutralize the stinging cells, because the acid content is not high enough. If you do not have access to vinegar, use sea water to rinse off additional tentacles.

Do not use fresh water to rinse off the tentacles. This will reactivate the stinging cells and create a whole new world of hurt.

3. Remove remaining tentacles. Use a gloved hand to pull off tentacles or something like a credit card to scrape them from your arm.

4. Seek medical attention. Most public beaches in Australia are equipped and prepared to deal with severe jellyfish stings, but in the case of the Box Jellyfish, you really have a limited amount of time (roughly 20-30 minutes). If it is a Box jelly, you need anti-venom to be administered as quickly as possible. Otherwise, the sting will almost certainly be fatal.

If you have any pain relief medication or an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen, take it. If you have benadryl or any other oral anti-histamine, take that as well. These will help relieve pain, swelling and in the case of benadryl, help to prevent a severe allergic reaction.

The best protection against a jellyfish sting..

.. is to avoid getting in the water when you shouldn’t. Heed any warnings against swimming and pay close attention to local reports. Some beaches in Australia have nets to keep out Box Jellyfish and if that is the case, make sure you are swimming in properly designated areas.

If you have ever been stung by a jellyfish in Australia, or anywhere for that matter, please share your experience in the comments below. Also, feel free to offer any additional advice when it comes to avoiding and treating stings in Australia.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ultrahi/265997498/

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{ 2 comments… add one }

  • Ashleigh March 9, 2012, 8:41 am

    I was stung on Bondi Beach in Australia, thankfully not by a box jellyfish but it still hurt like hell. My mistake was not washing the remaining tentacles off straight away as I thought it had to be with fresh water, once I had got them off and got some ice on it they settled down after a couple of hours and a few beers. I was left with a pretty cool scar for a month or too tho!! xox

    • phil March 10, 2012, 3:10 am

      Hey Ashleigh,
      Thanks for the comment. Glad to hear you recovered even if it did take a bit of time :)

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