Venomous marine creatures include the blue-ringed octopus, stonefish, stinging fish, and cone shells.
The blue-ringed octopus may be found in rock pools, and bites can occur when people touch them or stand on them. The octopus shows their blue markings only when disturbed. Bites from a blue-ringed octopus are potentially fatal. For suspected blue-ringed octopus bites, call 000 for an ambulance, use the pressure-immobilisation technique, and have the patient taken immediately to the emergency department of the nearest hospital.
Box jellyfish (Chironex fleckeri) are found mostly in the warm waters north of the Tropic of Capricorn. Stings are potentially fatal.
Douse the tentacles with vinegar, and then call 000 for an ambulance. If the patient isn't breathing start "mouth-to-mouth" resuscitation. Do not attempt to remove the tentacles. Do not rub the sting.
(Photo: Box jellyfish, courtesy of Paul Sutherland)
Blue bottles (Physalia sp) can be found in all coastal waters. The sting can cause immediate intense pain followed by redness at the site.
Remove any remaining adherent tentacles by washing the area with water. Soaking the affected area in hot but not scolding water (ideally 45 C) for 20 minutes may relieve the pain. This is not suitable for infants, the very elderly, or those with poor skin condition as hot water may burn the skin.
Do not use vinegar. If pain persists, patient should see their local doctor.
Irukandji syndrome is caused by a sting from the Carukia barnesi jellyfish, which is found mainly in northern Australia. Although the majority of cases are not life threatening, irukandj syndrome can be a potentially lethal condition. The initial sting is often innocouous and usually not felt, but this can develop into a progressive syndrome (over minustes to hours) characterised by restlessness, sweating, nausea, vomiting and severe pain affecting the limbs, back, abdomen or chest.
For suspected irukandji syndrome, irrigate the site with water and then douse with vinegar. The patient should be transported to the nearest hospital for medical assessment.
Other jellyfish can produce painful stings. Remove any remaining adherent tentacles by washing with water, and then apply ice packs to relieve the pain. The patient should see their local doctor if the pain is severe and not relieved by pain-killers.
Stonefish are found in all coastal waters and some fresh water sites. Although there are no reported deaths in Australia, stonefish stings can be potentially fatal. Stone fish spine penetration can result in severe and persistent pain and in these cases the patient should be transported to the nearest hospital immediately for treatment. Antivenom is available.
First aid for stone fish stings involves washing the wound site immediately and soaking the affected area in hot but not scolding water (ideally 45 C) for up to 90 minutes may relieve the pain. This is not suitable for infants, the very elderly, or those with poor skin condition as hot water may burn the skin.
Stinging fish, including butterfly cod, scorpion cod, cobbler, catfish, happy moments and flathead, can produce painful injuries. For these stings, soaking the affected area in hot but not scolding water (ideally 45 C) for up to 90 minutes may relieve the pain. If pain persists, the sting has caused a deep wound, or other symptoms are present, the patient should see their local doctor.
The cone shell has a small "harpoon" that can penetrate the skin and cause envenomation. The venom can very quickly cause life-threatening paralysis. For all stings from a cone shell call 000 for an ambulance, use the pressure-immobilisation technique, and have the patient taken immediately to the emergency department of the nearest hospital.