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August 2004 Vol. 30, No. 8   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Cream Wards off Jellyfish Stings, Stanford Study Suggests

from the August, 2004 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

More evidence has developed that Safe Sea, a cream that purportedly wards of jellyfish stings, is effective: A Stanford University School of Medicine study has found that it greatly reduces the number of stings received.

“It didn’t completely inhibit the stings, but it came pretty darn close,” reported Alexa Kimball, M.D., who directed the study, which appeared in the June issue of the Journal of Wilderness and Environmental Medicine.

Researchers used sea nettles, which can be found worldwide, and the more dangerous box jellyfish or sea wasp, which is prevalent along the Florida and Texas coasts and the Gulf of Mexico. The stings from these jellyfish can be life threatening. Volunteers had one arm smeared with the sting-inhibiting cream, which also contains sunscreen, and the other arm with a commercial sunscreen alone. The researchers placed wet jellyfish tentacles on the forearms of the volunteers for up to 45 seconds. The tentacles contain nematocysts, nasty little cells that can eject a toxin-carrying harpoon in a fraction of a second.

Among the 12 volunteers exposed to the sea nettles, there were no visible changes in the treated arms, though two participants did report mild discomfort. Of the arms smeared with sunscreen only, all 12 showed swelling, and the volunteers reported discomfort. As for those exposed to the box jellyfish, three of the 12 treated with the sting inhibitor reported discomfort, compared with 10 in the untreated group. Only one inhibitor-treated arm had visible signs of a sting, compared with nine of those coated with sunscreen only.

“This certainly suggests the cream is going to help,” said Kimball, “Even if it doesn’t offer 100-percent protection, I would rather have some protection over none.”

Kimball says it contains a substance similar to one found in the jellyfish bell. Jellyfish use their bells as a recognition system, so that when the creature comes into contact with the substance, it thinks it’s found itself instead of tempting human flesh. The cream is believed to disrupt the jellyfish’s communication system so that it doesn’t get the signal to release its venom.

Scuba diver and author Paul Auerbach, M.D., one of the researchers in this study, said he tried the cream five years ago by smearing some on half his neck and then jumping into the Mexican ocean awash in thimble jellyfish. “The side I painted had two little red bumps on it, and the side I didn’t paint looked like a road map of Florida. That’s what convinced me we should do the studies.” He recommends reapplication before each dive.

Safe Sea is marketed by Nidaria Technology Ltd. and is available on the web at

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