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What to do if you get stung by an Irukandji?

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Recently it was confirmed that an Irukandji jellyfish has been found off the west coast of K’gari. There have also been other suspected stings further down the coast. People visiting this area and across the broader marine environment should be extra vigilant about their personal safety. This extra care is particularly important for those operating vessels, diving or snorkelling.


An adult irukandji measures only one cubic centimetre (1 cm3), but they are both the smallest and one of the most venomous jellyfish in the world. Photo contributed: QPWS.

Irukandji can occur coastally and around the reef and islands. Irukandji is a group of jellyfish which are known to cause symptoms of a potentially dangerous syndrome called Irukandji Syndrome. Whilst the irukandji sting itself can be relatively mild, the symptoms of Irukandji Syndrome, in very rare cases, can be life-threatening. Symptoms of Irukandji Syndrome can take 5 to 45 (typically 20-30) minutes to develop after being stung.

Some symptoms of irukandji stings include:

  • Lower backache, overall body pain and muscular cramps. The pain from this can be severe.
  • Nausea/vomiting.
  • Chest pain and difficulty breathing.
  • Pins and needles.
  • Anxiety and a feeling of “impending doom.”
  • Headache, usually severe.
  • Increased respiratory rate.
  • Piloerection (hair standing on end).
  • High blood pressure which can lead to stroke or heart failure.
  • A sting is rarely evident – if present, usually just a pale red mark with goose pimples or sweating.

When visiting areas where there is a risk of irukandji, there are some simple steps that should be taken to reduce the exposure of staff to the jellyfish. These safety steps include:

  • Wear protective clothing such as a full body lycra or neoprene suit, even if in shallow water, as most jellyfish stings occur when wading. This is the number one way of preventing stings, as suits protect up to 75% of the body and cover areas where stings more commonly occur. Not all suits offer equal protection – lycra or neoprene offer the greatest protection and are also excellent for sun protection and protection from coral cuts, etc. In the absence of a full lycra suit, wear other protective clothing such as long pants tucked into socks.
  • Protect your face and avoid putting your head underwater at high-risk locations.
  • Enter water slowly as marine stingers will often swim away from people given the opportunity and time.
  • Always carry vinegar when going boating or undertaking other marine activities.

Should an irukandji sting occur, it is important that medical aid is provided as soon as possible. Medical aid should consist of:

  1. Remove casualty from the water if safe to do so.
  2. Treat using DRSABCD first aid method.
  3. Call for help – dial triple zero (000) for medical assistance
  4. Promptly administer CPR if required
  5. Douse the sting site with vinegar as soon as possible for at least 30 seconds. Vinegar inactivates the stinging cells, preventing them from injecting more venom.
  6. Monitor the casualty and seek further medical assistance if available.

Note: Because the symptoms of Irukandji Syndrome may take time to appear following a sting, all tropical jellyfish stings should be doused with vinegar and the casualty should remain out of the water, in a safe location with someone to monitor them, for at least 45 minutes, as the casualty may appear stable initially before the onset of symptoms.

For further information, please contact: Queensland emergency services and safety, Queensland Health, Surf Lifesaving Queensland or the Australian Resuscitation Council.

Article contributed by Moyra McRae, Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service

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