Irukandji jellyfish.
Irukandji jellyfish. Contributed

Irukandji invasion: Health warning for toxic jellyfish

HEALTH authorities have warned Sunshine Coast beach-goers of swarms of potentially deadly irukandji jellyfish in the region.

With the arrival of summer, the toxic jellyfish have been seen in large numbers, stinging swimmers around Fraser Island

They're reportedly found mainly on the calm inland side, including the southern tip and off Inskip Point, where the Fraser Island ferry docks, north of Rainbow Beach.

Just yesterday a boy was stung at Fraser Island, the third case this week.

Some people may have been stung by the so-called blue bottle when weather conditions wash them on-shore, as has happened off Sunshine Coast beaches in recent months.

Sunshine Coast Hospital and Health Service senior medical officer Dr Simon Jensen said when weather conditions and water temperature were right, these tiny irukandji jellyfish could appear in the shallow water of bays, and on beaches, around the entire north of Australia, often in quite calm water, but also when the sea was rough from summer storms.

"They have been known for many years to occur from Broome to Townsville, and some northern Queensland beaches are closed from time to time, especially in summer," Dr Jensen said

"In recent years, possibly due to warming sea temperatures, they have been found further south as far as North-west Cape of Western Australia and Fraser Island of Queensland."


Irukandji sting
Irukandji sting. Contributed

However, they have not yet been seen further south.

"Last year several patients received care at the Gympie and Sunshine Coast University Hospitals in December and January," he said.

"In the past month several victims have been flown to the Hervey Bay and Bundaberg Hospitals for medical care.

"The irukandji jellyfish is a tiny, virtually colourless and transparent jellyfish, up to 2cm in diameter and with a single tentacle on each of its four corners up to 35cm long, and looks similar to other much less dangerous jellyfish.

"It may be invisible from above the water and very difficult to see for snorkellers and divers."

The sting of the tiny jellyfish may seem innocuous at first, mild and leaving little or no mark on the exposed skin.

However, in the worst cases, within 10-20 minutes the symptoms may progress to abdominal cramps, fatigue, muscle aches and severe back pain, headache, sweating, and even chest pain.

Anyone stung by this jellyfish should seek urgent medical attention and immediately notify any lifeguards on duty.

Those experiencing symptoms beyond the sting site should be taken to the emergency department of the nearest hospital for assessment and treatment.

First aid should include:

  • getting the victim, and any other people in the immediate area, from the water.
  • applying vinegar to the apparent sting site and to any other exposed skin - this may stop any remaining sting cells, called nematocysts, from firing and worsening the symptoms.
  • do not apply pressure bandaging as for a snakebite.
  • do not apply hot water, often used for the pain of fish stings. It may hasten the absorption of venom into the bloodstream. People can reduce the risk of being stung by doing a few simple things:
  • do not pick up any jellyfish found on the beach, especially any fitting the above description.
  • do not swim at beaches where there are signs warning of the presence of this jellyfish.
  • when swimming anywhere from Rainbow Beach and north of there, strongly consider wearing a stinger suit, available at beachwear stores, which gives good protection against stings, although the exposed skin of the head and neck, hands and feet, still leaves some risk.