Friday, January 15, 2010


An expert on jellyfish says changing human behaviour, rather than Irukandji numbers, are to blame for an increase in stings this season.
At least 10 people have been treated at Broome Hospital's emergency department with Irukandji syndrome since Christmas [2009] -- more than double the number of serious stings last wet season.

The past decade has seen only 2 Irukandji-related fatalities, but James Cook University's Marine and Tropical Biology associate professor, Jamie Seymour, says the increase in stings will continue.

"This problem is not going to go away, it's only going to get worse, for 2 reasons," he said. "First, you're going to put more and more people in the water, so more people are going to get stung. But second, what we're seeing on the east coast, and I suspect it's happening in the west as well, is that with increased water temperatures now occurring, with temps staying higher for longer, we're now seeing a consistent increase in the length of the stinger season."

The Irukandji jellyfish has been seen in Fraser Island, an island in northern Queensland, 250 kilometres [155 mi] north of Brisbane.

The syndrome has also been described throughout the Pacific and recently from waters of Florida.

Dr Seymour (James Cook University) said the tourist industry should be warning people about the jellyfish because global warming may be changing water temperatures allowing the dangerous Irukandji jellies to live in new areas including some tourist destinations.

Irukandji syndrome symptoms are a catastrophic complex of clinical signs and symptoms. The initial sting is typically mild and is followed, minutes to hours later, by vomiting, profuse sweating, headache, agitation, rapid heart rate, and very high blood pressure.
The increase in blood pressure may be life threatening and can be associated with abnormal heartbeat and heart failure. The symptoms may last from hours to several days, and victims usually require hospitalization. Though the syndrome was first described almost 50 years ago, its pharmacological basis and a specific treatment have eluded investigators.

In rare cases, the victim suffers pulmonary edema, which could be fatal if not treated.

Dr Michael Corkeron, director of intensive care at the state's Townsville Hospital, has discovered a remarkably simple yet effective treatment for the potentially fatal stings of the venomous Irukandji jellyfish. He has successfully treated patients with magnesium infusions delivered by intravenous drip. Doctors in Queensland say magnesium infusion can fight the jellyfish's lethal venom.

The treatment has been tested on pigs. Doctors have now reported success in humans. Dr Corkeron said: "The remarkable thing is that magnesium infusion is a long-established, very safe, and inexpensive treatment.

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