Meatless Monday: Best way to combat jellyfish stings and it doesn’t involve pee

More than 100 deaths a year are attributed to jellyfish stings making them one of the most dangerous critters in the sea.

One treatment had been to urinate on a jellyfish sting or to splash ice water on the skin. Now new research has found the best way of treating jellyfish stings is to rinse the wound and submerge it in hot water between 108 and 113 degrees fahrenheit for 45 minutes.

Unlike sharks, which only causes 10 human fatalities a year, jellyfish is much more a threat and researcher Dr. Angel Yanaghihara, an assistant researcher for the Pacific Biosciences Research Center at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa became interested in finding the best cure for stings after she almost became one of the statistic herself.

In 1997, Yanagihara swam through a swarm of box jellyfish during her morning swim. She’d gotten mildly stung by jellyfish before on her swims and didn’t think much of it. Then, an hour later, there was “some kind of needle pricking, but burning feeling,” Yanagihara recalls in Science Friday.

“I was wheezing. And I felt like my lungs were filling with liquid. It was just shocking and terrifying. I was convinced that this may be the end of me, that I may be in danger of drowning.”

She made it back to the beach and lost consciousness. She came to in an ambulance. EMTs had wrapped her wound with with meat tenderizer, vinegar, and Saran wrap.

And I just thought, now, this is not proper care,” she says. “What are we doing here?”

After her recovery, Yanagihara shifted her research focus.

“I was very curious to find out the biochemical explanation for something that primitive that can cause so much pain. It had my full attention,” she says.

She learned how many deaths box jelly stings cause and just how many ineffective sting treatments there are on the internet.

Yanagihara learned the painful sting comes from explosive cysts on the surface of the jellyfish called cnidae.

The cnidae contain microscopic tubules that, when triggered, cause a barbed tip to shoot out like a bullet, piercing the skin. The tubule follows within microseconds, discharging venom, which starts attacking blood immediately. Using these findings, she developed a line of topical products that isolate the cnidae and cause them to rupture en masse.

But if you don’t have access to the topical products at the beach, Yanagihara recommends rinsing the wound in vinegar and submerging it in water between 108 and 113 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes.

Despite her work, there remains a lot of misinformation online on how to treat a box jelly sting—and it’s costing people their lives.

“We need to be evidence-based, not opinion-based,” Dr. Yanagihara says. “Because in the end, to make contributions to human health, we need that deep understanding and deep knowledge.”

Part of the research was based on a study that paid people $100 to get stung.

One of the participants remember the pain and charcoal being put on the spot where she got stung. Others who had been stung told they had also used vinegar as treatment.

In the clinical trial, participants got stung by a tentacle one centimeter long. Things like a cold or hot compress, vinegar, coca cola and even a new topical spray and cream that researchers developed will then be tested on participants.

She says that the test is safe because of the small dosage they’re using.

“We know the maximum dose that could be delivered by this small portion of tentacle over the whole body size of an individual,” said Yanagihara.


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