A Malady for Milady

And for milord as well, we mustn’t leave the gentlemen out in the cold, because everybody loves a scary, bizarre malady, right? Come on, say it loud: “Yes, Ghostess!”
That’s better. Now, without further ado, I present to you..Irukandji Syndrome!
If you’re reading this in the US or Europe, you are unlikely ever to encounter this condition, and that is definitely something to be profoundly thankful for. But if you live or vacation on the coast of northern Australia and the nearby islands, well, forewarned is said to be forearmed.
Irukandji Syndrome is the name given to the effects of being stung by the Irukandji box jellyfish. The jellyfish is very small, and its sting is not in itself very painful. Most people describe the sting as something like a mosquito bite. But within five to twenty minutes after being stung, the trouble starts. First there’s severe headache, backache and chest and stomach pain. Then there’s nausea and vomiting, followed by catastrophically high blood pressure and rapid heartbeat.
But the most striking feature of Irukandji Syndrome is psychological: patients experience a strong sense of impending doom. Sometimes the patient is so convinced that he is going to die that he begs his doctor to kill him to get the whole business over with.
The symptoms usually last from four to thirty hours, but it may take two weeks before everything is really back to normal. There is no known antidote to Irukandji venom, but fortunately, with proper supportive medical care, deaths are not common.
The Irukandji has a much more dangerous relative that lives in the same area. The sea wasp, another box jellyfish, is usually said to be the most dangerous of all venomous animals. Like the Irukandji, the sea wasp is cube-shaped, but it is considerably larger, with tentacles that can extend up to ten feet. Unlike the Irukandji, the sea wasp’s tentacles can inject venom all along their length, not just at the tips. And sea wasp stings are immediately and fantastically painful. The pain has been compared to being doused with boiling water.
And sea wasp venom acts fast. Many victims suffer cardiac arrest or drown before they can even get back to shore. If help is not given immediately, death can occur in as little as three minutes, faster than any other venom on Earth.
Fortunately, an antivenin has been developed, and is widely available to hospitals and ambulances in areas populated by the creatures. Even so, at least one person dies of sea wasp venom every year.
As usual, an ounce of prevention is worth more than a pound of cure. During the sea wasps’ most active season, signs are posted along beaches warning swimmers of their presence, and most locals know to stay out of the water. This is lucky, because sea wasps are pale blue and transparent, making it almost impossible to see them in the water. And, since their tentacles are so long, you don’t even have to get very close to them to be injured.
“So, Ghostess,” asks a concerned reader, “I’m scared, but not scared enough to cancel my vacation Down Under. I’ll pay attention to the signs at the beach, but what if I get stung anyway?”
First aid for sea wasp and Irukandji stings consists first of getting safely to shore. (Now you know why they tell you never to swim at a beach with no lifeguard on duty.) Once ashore, vinegar should be poured over the sting and any tentacles should be removed using gloved hands or tweezers. Rubbing the area or applying any form of alcohol will make things much worse. After that, ice packs and antihistamines are given until the victim receives antivenin.
Oh, and tentacles are dangerous even after they are dried-out and apparently dead, so don’t be tempted to fool with a dead jellyfish you find washed up on the sand.
Have a nice trip! G’day, mates!


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