Prospective study of Chironex fleckeri and other box jellyfish stings in the "Top End" of Australia's Northern Territory

Bart J Currie, Susan P Jacups
Medical Journal of Australia 2005 December 5, 183 (11): 631-6

OBJECTIVE: To describe the epidemiology and clinical features of box jellyfish envenoming in the Top End of the Northern Territory and, in particular, confirmed stings from the major Australian box jellyfish, Chironex fleckeri.

DESIGN: Prospective collection of clinical data and skin scrapings or sticky-tape tests for nematocyst identification from patients presenting to Royal Darwin Hospital and remote coastal community health clinics in the Northern Territory, spanning 10 950 km of coastline; analysis of tidal, weather and seasonal data.

PATIENTS: All patients with jellyfish sting details recorded between 1 April 1991 and 30 May 2004.

MAIN OUTCOME MEASURES: Demographic and clinical features, use of C. fleckeri antivenom, and associations between weather, seasonal and tidal factors and confirmed C. fleckeri stings.

RESULTS: Of 606 jellyfish stings documented, 225 were confirmed to have been caused by C. fleckeri. 37% of C. fleckeri stings were in children, 92% occurred during the "stinger season" (1 October to 1 June), 83% occurred in water 1 m or less deep, and 17% occurred while victims were entering the water. Stings were least common on outgoing tides (P < 0.001) and commonest between 15:00 and 18:00 (P < 0.001) and on days with wind speed less than that month's average (P < 0.001). Nearly all victims experienced immediate pain, but this could often be controlled with ice; only 30% required parenteral narcotics and 8% required hospital admission. Cardiorespiratory arrest occurred within several minutes of the sting in the one fatal case, involving a 3-year-old girl with only 1.2 m of visible tentacle contact. C. fleckeri antivenom was given to another 21 patients, none of whom had life-threatening features at the time they were given antivenom.

CONCLUSIONS: Most C. fleckeri stings are not life-threatening; patients who die usually have cardiopulmonary arrest within minutes of the sting. The potential benefit of antivenom and magnesium under these circumstances remains to be shown, but a protocol with their rapid use is recommended if cardiopulmonary arrest has occurred. Unfortunately, this is unrealistic for many rural coastal locations, and the priority remains prevention of stings by keeping people, especially children, out of the sea during the stinger season.


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