A sting from a Portuguese Man o’ War (Physalia physalis) jellyfish can be excruciatingly painful, and although the stings suffered by seven bathers in the Costa Blanca holiday resort on the southeastern coast of Spain were only “minor,” five of those stung were taken to hospital.
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That was enough for authorities to temporarily close three beaches, while lifeguards removed the creatures from the beaches.
Monica Gomez, Benidorm Councillor for Beaches, confirmed: “As a precautionary measure bathing was banned and the red flag hoisted for an hour at the main Levante and Poniente beaches, and for more than two hours at Mal Pas beach.
“Seven people were treated for minor stings caused by the jellyfish-like creatures at Mal Pas beach.
“Five were taken to Villajoyosa Hospital, as part of protocol and as a precautionary measure. We have acted swiftly and diligently and banned bathing until we were sure there were no more Portuguese Men O’War in the water.”
Five of the seven sunbathers were taken to hospital
Although they are referred to as “jellyfish,” the Portuguese Man o’ War resembles that of an 18th-century Portuguese warship under full sail, according to the National Ocean Service.
Their tentacles can extend up to 100 feet in length. Trailing with it is a gas-filled bladder, which may be blue, violet, or pink.
The long, thin tendrils are composed of venom-filled nematocysts, which can paralyze fish and other small creatures. They often travel the warm ocean currents in groups of up to 1,000.
Their stings are rarely deadly to humans, although they are very painful. To children, the elderly, or those with allergic reactions, they can cause fever, shock, and respiratory distress, according to Divers Alert Network.
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There is another, more deadly jellyfish swimming in our oceans—one of the more dangerous and venomous jellyfish in the world. It is the four-handed box jellyfish (Chiropsalmus quadrumanus), also known as sea wasps, stingers, or jelly wasps.
The box jellyfish are often found in the warm waters around Australia, the western Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, and the Pacific Ocean.
Each tentacle contains millions of stinging cells, and they release venom upon contact with a victim, targeting the heart, nervous system, and skin. They are known to kill humans faster than any other venomous creature, and victims can die in as little as three minutes after a sting.
While there is no official tally, it is believed around 100 or more people die each year from encounters with box jellyfish, according to Live Science.
One 10-year-old child, Rachael Shardlow, was stung by a box jellyfish in 2010 and miraculously lived to tell the tale. She was 14 miles upstream in the Calliope River in Queensland, Australia, when the deadly tentacles wrapped themselves around her leg and stung her—she then fell unconscious, reported the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). She was saved from drowning by her 13-year-old brother, who dragged her out of the water and onto the riverbank.
If you're going to Spain this summer, you need to know about this.
“I don’t know of anybody in the entire literature where we’ve studied this where someone has had such an extensive sting that has survived,” Zoology and tropical ecology associate professor at James Cook University, Jamie Seymour, told ABC after he saw photos of the girl’s injuries.
“When I first saw the pictures of the injuries I just went, ‘You know, to be honest, this kid should not be alive.’ I mean they are horrific,” Seymour added.
After having 30 percent of her body covered in tentacles, young Rachael went into cardiac arrest and stopped breathing, reported The Observer.
She was revived and put into an induced coma for three days to help deal with the pain and needed a compression bandage for six months. “Thank God she survived,” said her mother, Ruth.
Recommendations If You Happen to Be Stung by a Box Jellyfish
Prevention is better than a cure as they say, and this holds even truer in cases of jellyfish stings. According to Divers Alert Network, it is important to research the area that you intend to swim in and avoid jellyfish habitats where you can.
If stung by a jellyfish, it is important to follow these steps:
- Activate local emergency medical services.
- Monitor victim’s airway, breathing, and circulation. Be prepared to perform CPR at any moment (particularly if you suspect a box jellyfish sting).
- Avoid rubbing the area.
- Apply household vinegar to the area. Generously pour or spray the area with vinegar for no less than 30 seconds to neutralize any invisible remnants. Let the vinegar stand for a few minutes before doing anything else.
- Wash the area with seawater (or saline). Use a syringe with a steady stream of water to help remove any tentacle remains. Do not rub.
- Apply heat. Immerse the affected area in hot water (upper limit of 113°F/45°C) for 30 to 90 minutes.
- Always seek an emergency medical evaluation.