Think outside the Box Jellyfish

Box Jellyfish: CC licence

In her post on Water deaths in Australia, Cleopatra introduced us to the Box Jellyfish. As a man whose maritime experience is confined to Mare Nostrum, I confess, I not heard about them before then.

Since most Cnidarian, especially those classed as Cubozoa, don’t have ability to read maps, I figured there was no reason that that confine themselves to Australia.

Which is why I was dismayed to hear about a 20 year old German woman who died at a popular Thai resort after taking an evening swim where this third reported fatality in Thailand in 14 months from a box Jellyfish.

Police Lt. Col Thewet Pruemsut said the woman was taking an evening swim at a Koh Samui beach Tuesday when she was stung by the jellyfish, whose sting can kill an adult within minutes. A friend of the woman, also a German tourist, was stung on the hand by a jellyfish but survived.

“Business owners are afraid that putting up warning signs would reduce the number of tourists, but we explained the necessity of this practice,” Thewet said.

He said that jellyfish are typically found in Thai waters during the rainy season, which runs roughly from June through October.

Thon Thamrongnawasawat, a marine biology expert and vice dean of the fisheries department at Bangkok’s Kasetsart University, said that in the past seven years the numbers of box jellyfish in Thailand have increased due to several factors, including global warming, waste released from the shore that attracts jellyfish seeking food into shallow waters, and a decline in the numbers of sea turtles that eat jellyfish.

Unlike many other jellyfish, box jellyfish do not float on the sea surface but swim deeper and are harder to see, he said, making it advisable not to swim at night.

Box jellyfish have tentacles that can reach 3 meters (10 feet) long. The sting is so excruciating that many victims go into shock and drown. Those who make it out of the water often die from the venom, which quickly attacks the heart and nervous system.

My obvious advice in dealing with Box Jellyfish is stay out of the water during the affected seasons of Southern hemisphere. It will vary by country. If you are diving, wear wear stinger suits.

But if  you do get stung, then vinegar (~5% acetic acid solution) has an effect in  prevents nematocysts from firing, allowing people to rinse off tentacles without causing more trauma. For this reason, vinegar has been the emergency response to box jelly stings for more than twenty years. It is currently the primary recommended treatment by the Australian Resuscitation Council, the American Heart Association and the American Red Cross. []

Oh, and this is where the folk remedy of peeing on a sting originates. Trust me, vinegar is more effective.


Galen of Pergamon