Deadly box jellyfish stings, what to do and precautions to take

Box jellyfish. (PHOTO: Getty Images)
Box jellyfish. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

By: Wenting Ang

UPDATED: Another box jellyfish sting case has been flagged by Marine Stewards.

While jellyfish sightings in Singapore are not uncommon, a highly venomous box jellyfish, known to be fatal to humans, was sighted in Sentosa on 3 July.

The venom from a box jellyfish can be extremely painful, causing muscle spasms, nausea, cardiac and respiratory arrest. Those stung by a box jellyfish can go into shock and die from heart failure before reaching the shore.

According to Marine Stewards, an environmental conservation group who had first spotted the box jellyfish, NSParks had been notified and is currently looking into the matter. The public is, however, advised to avoid swimming in Sentosa waters for at least the next two weeks.

The second case happened on 17 July, at Palawan Beach, where a young girl had been stung on her leg while paddling in shallow waters near FOC Sentosa.

Marine Stewards had updated their public advisory to include no swimming in Sentosa, Seringat, Lazarus and St. John’s islands for a further two weeks.

Yahoo Lifestyle SEA looks into a similar incident in March, where Jade Dyson, an Australian in Singapore, was stung by a box jellyfish while swimming in Sentosa.

According to the post shared on ANZA Cycling Triathlon Club Singapore, Dyson was preparing to swim 25 km but was stung by a box jellyfish 2 km into her swim. She had not spotted the jellyfish, before or after the sting, but the pain was instant.

“Within 20 seconds of being stung the muscles in my back, hips and shoulder all seized and I couldn't move. I couldn’t swim, I couldn't speak and Liv had to push my buoy to me so I could grab it with my good arm and I essentially lay with it under my belly.”

Dyson recalled taking potentially lifesaving decisions before embarking on the swim - not swimming alone and to wear safety buoys, something that many swimmers often do not. Olivia, Dyson’s friend who had swum with her, remembered Dyson’s muscles on her back protruding from the spasms, and had helped towed Dyson towards the shore.

However, the pair made a mistake of not immediately calling for an ambulance.

“I should have realized how serious it was. I have since learnt that we can get box jellyfish in APAC, they are just rare in SG waters.”

After approximately 90 minutes after the sting, Dyson’s husband came with antihistamines and ibuprofen which she took double doses for. Noting that the medicines helped with the swelling but did nothing to relieve the pain, Dyson’s stings went from being incredibly swollen to purple burn-like whip marks with the skin being blistered.

Since the incident, Dyson had shared some tips on how to treat possible jellyfish stings, including calling for an ambulance immediately if the sting is serious.

Being in the middle of the ocean when she was stung, Dyson had to pick off the tentacles with her bare hands. However, wherever possible, it is recommended to pour vinegar and remove the tentacles with tweezers. It is also important to get into hot water to neutralise the toxins and alleviate the pain. Using cold water or ice pack will, however, encourage further toxins to be released.

Sharing some tips on swimming in open waters, Dyson emphasised the importance of swimming with a safety buoy, “preferably one with storage if you are swimming a long way so you can pack antihistamines”.

Dyson was put on oral steroids, antibiotics and given an antibiotic cream to prevent the burns from becoming infected.

Jellyfishes are one of the most deadly animals on Earth and contain toxins that can attack the heart, nervous system, and skin cells. Complications arising from these toxins can happen, resulting in death. Survivors will experience pain for weeks after the incident and often have significant scarring.

The public can contact NParks or Marine Stewards if they spot any jellyfishes in the waters. They are advised to take photos, videos and note the location of the sighting for the authorities to investigate further.