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Be craeful during stinger season

TAKING safety precautions and being aware of what to do if stung by a jellyfish are important considerations for beachgoers this holiday season, a health expert has said.

Bundaberg Hospital Director of Emergency Medicine Dr Terry George said swimmers could avoid being stung by wearing stinger protective clothing or staying out of the water.

“Jellyfish that cause the irukandji syndrome also might be found at a beach for just a few days or for weeks on end, so you must always remain alert during the stinger season,” Dr George said.

Irukandji syndrome can cause nausea, anxiety, headache, waves of spasms in the back and stomach, dizziness and difficulty in breathing.

The extremely dangerous Chironex (box jellyfish) are a constant threat through the warmer months on the Northern Queensland coast.

“A protective suit such as a wetsuit or lycra suit will protect the covered areas of the body and significantly reduce your risk of being stung,” Dr George said.

The Irukandji variety of jellyfish is a small transparent box jellyfish, of only about 1-2cm in diameter, and usually difficult to see. Some newly described species may be larger (up to 10cm).

Dr George said it could be difficult to work out which species of jellyfish had caused a sting, so if in doubt, you should treat a sting as if it was potentially serious. “The effects of an encounter with a jellyfish can range from receiving a painful sting, right through to a potentially fatal sting from a box jellyfish or one of the jellyfish causing Irukandji syndrome,” Dr George said.

“A major box jelly sting is excruciatingly painful and may be immediately life threatening, especially if they involve the chest or back area. “Irukandji syndrome may take from a few minutes to 45 minutes to develop.”

Dr Geroge said for treatment of stings, the priority was to keep the patient stable and safe. “If the sting is clearly from a blue bottle (Physalia), do not use vinegar but instead wash off the tentacles with seawater,” Dr George said.

“But don’t wash Chironex or Irukandji jellyfish stings with seawater – it will cause the stinging cells to discharge and worsen the sting. Use vinegar instead for these two types of jellyfish stings.”

The Australian Resuscitation Council advises the following:

• Call for help (call for an ambulance immediately on 000 if the patient is extremely unwell)

• Check for level of consciousness and assess airway, breathing, circulation, and resuscitate if required – early resuscitation after major stings from Chironex box jellies has saved lives in the past few years.

• Douse the sting site liberally with vinegar to neutralise the stinging cells – unless the sting is from a blue bottle, in which case wash off with seawater. Pick off any tentacles.

• Seek medical aid as soon as possible if there is persistent pain or any ongoing or worsening symptoms.

Last updated: 12 January 2016