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March 2007 Vol. 33, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Two Inexpensive Weapons against Jellyfish Stings

from the March, 2007 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

The delicate jellyfish is one of the ocean’s most-feared creatures. Already more than a dozen people have felt its sting in north Queensland during Australia’s summer season. But medical researchers have found two easy ways to reduce the pain.

Two Inexpensive Weapons against Jellyfish StingsAustralian doctors say that hot water is the most effective way to relieve the pain of any jellyfish sting. According to a new study in the Medical Journal of Australia, doctors and medical students in Western Australia purposefully stung themselves with jellyfish to compare four treatments— ice, vinegar, aluminum sulphate and hot water. The latter was the only successful treatment, relieving 88 percent of the pain, while the other treatments were only temporary. Sting patients treated with hot water at 115 degrees Fahrenheit got significant pain relief in 4 to 10 minutes, and the heat also appeared to stop inflammation. (Another traditional treatment was a stream of urine, but 98.6 degrees doesn’t qualify as hot enough.) The doctors think the hotwater treatment can also be a good pain blocker even with more serious jellyfish stings.

Queensland hospitals have started giving magnesium sulphate infusions to patients suffering from stings after finding that the compound helps to shut off the body’s automatic response to the venom. The treatment was most recently tested on Welshman Chris Newbrook, who was snorkeling in the Whitsunday Islands during his honeymoon in December when he was attacked by an Irukandji. After the sting to his neck brought on chest pains and difficulty in breathing, he was airlifted to the hospital and spent two days in intensive care. His symptoms quickly diminished after he was treated with magnesium, and he was released soon after.

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