Science

Just keep swimming

Swimmers and marine experts in WA have welcomed news that an antidote may have been found to the fatal venom produced by box jellyfish.

Researchers at Sydney University claim the antidote would block the pain and symptoms of the sting the box jellyfish produces.

Cardiac arrest and death are the worst possible consequences to come from a sting and researchers say the antidote must be applied within 15 minutes of being stung to be successful.

Shelley Beach. Photo: Rebecca Stacy.

Aquarium of Western Australia Ocean Guide Madeleine Petty says the introduction of a vaccine would make a big impact on the Australian public.

“I know a few Aussies who are too scared to enter the water because of animals like the box jellyfish, as their tentacles grow up to three metres long,” she says.

“Knowing that there is an antidote means people will have peace of mind going into the water.”

Miss Petty says regardless of the antidote there are steps people should follow if they spot a box jellyfish in waters frequented by the public.

“They should get out of the water and warn the lifeguards on the beach so they can put up appropriate signage or if needed close the beach and evacuate swimmers,” she says.

Trigg beach lifeguard Paris Doick says the current treatment for a jellyfish sting is to apply ice to the sting and monitor the patient.

“They can either stay in the lifeguard shelter or take the icepack with them to go back to where they were sitting.”

Miss Doick says box jellyfish stings are not common along Perth’s coast and that if it were suspected that a box jellyfish had stung a patient then triple zero would be called immediately.

Perth resident Louise Collier was living on an island off northern Queensland when her ten year old daughter was stung by a box jellyfish.

She says although she had previously treated people for stings, she did not initially know it was a box jellyfish that had stung her child.

Ms Collier says it became clear when her daughter complained of severe cramping and pain on her back, middle and sides.

“It’s an indescribable pain that’s been described as worse than childbirth,” she says.

“Multiple patients have described feeling an impending sense of doom.

“That’s when you know it’s serious.”

Ms Collier’s daughter was airlifted off the island by the Royal Flying Doctor aircraft and taken to the nearest hospital for treatment.

The Sydney University researchers are looking for potential commercial partners or to the government to make the antidote available to the public and prevent further cases.