Australian man critical after diving into venomous jellyfish

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Posted by on December 03, 2009 at 22:41:09:

In a case of extraordinary bad luck, a man sailing off the coast of north-eastern Australia dove into the ocean and face first into a tiny, but deadly, Irukandji jellyfish with a sting said to be as painful as childbirth.

The 29-year-old, who has not been named, was wearing a full-length protective stinger suit (a lightweight version of the wetsuit), which covers everything but the face, feet and hands. But the peanut-sized jellyfish still managed to find his exposed face when he dove off a yacht while sailing near South Molle Island in Queensland’s popular group of Whitsunday Islands on Thursday.

He was immediately stung on the face by the venomous jellyfish, which is almost impossible to see in the ocean but which is common throughout the tropical waters in north-eastern Australia from October to May each year. Tourists are advised to wear stinger suits or simply not to swim in the water, or risk being stung by the marine creatures.

The man was pulled back onto the tour boat suffering excruciating pain and taken to the island where, shivering and in shock, he was given first aid. He then had to wait 40 minutes until a rescue helicopter was able to transfer him to a hospital at Mackay on the mainland, where he remained in intensive care earlier today.

Phillip Dowler, general manager of the CQ rescue squad in Queensland, said the man would have welts across his face for weeks, but was likely to eventually recover from the painful sting.

“It was very unfortunate that it (the jellyfish) managed to get him on the only part of his body that was exposed,” Mr Dowler told The Times.

“A sting from an Irukandji jellyfish has been described as being as painful as childbirth, people who are stung usually screaming in pain. And his would have been exacerbated by the fact that it got him on his face, close to his brain and his nervous system. It would have been extraordinarily painful.”

Australia is well-known for its myriad deadly creatures, but the Irukandji - found mainly off north-eastern Australia but also in Hawaii, Florida and parts of South-East Asia - remains rather mysterious. A distant relative of the more notorious and widely feared box jellyfish, the Irukandji is a venomous, bell-shaped jellyfish that grows to only 2cm long. The jellyfish’s sting can lead to ‘Irukandji syndrome’ and cause severe abdominal, limb, muscles, chest and joint pain, nausea, vomiting, sweating and agitation, restlessness and anxiety.

Some symptoms can last for more than a week, and the syndrome can occasionally lead to a rapid rise in blood pressure and heart failure.

Mr Dowler said there are on average about 20 rescues each summer associated with marine stinger injuries in Queensland, however they are rarely fatal, and usually only if the victim has underlying medical conditions such as cardiac problems.

In 2002, two tourists were killed in separate incidents after being stung by the tiny creatures off northeast Australia — the first recorded Irukandji fatalities. But because the jellyfish leave almost no mark on their victims, some scientists believe they are responsible for many deaths that were attributed as drownings or heart attacks.

In a separate incident on Thursday a female American tourist, believed to be aged in her 60s, died while snorkelling near Agincourt Reef off Port Douglas.

The woman was pulled from the water after she stopped moving. It is not known how she died.

The woman was the seventh person to die while snorkelling in northern or central Queensland in the past 15 months.

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