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Box Jellyfish Sting Kills Teenager, First Fatality From One In Australia For 15 Years

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Tom Hale

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Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

Senior Journalist

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Box jellyfish.

Box jellyfish is a term used to describe dozens of species found in tropical and temperate seas. Some species pose little risk to humans, but others produce catastrophically potent venom. Image credit: Danza/Shutterestock.com

A teenager in Australia has died after being stung by a box jellyfish, the first documented box jellyfish fatality in Australia for 15 years. 

The 17-year-old boy died in hospital a week after being stung by the jellyfish on February 22 at a beach near Bamaga, a small town on the northern tip of Cape York in the north of Queensland, ABC News reports.

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Box jellyfish is a term used to describe dozens of species found in tropical and temperate seas around the globe. Some species pose little risk to humans, but others produce catastrophically potent venom. 

It’s thought the teen was stung by an Australian box jellyfish (Chironex fleckeri), often described as the most lethal jellyfish in the world. The species is armed with 3-meter-long (10 feet) tentacles covered with millions of nematocysts. On contact, the tentacles will trigger the explosive release of the harpoon-like nematocysts, which deliver potent and rapid-acting venom into the victim.

A sting is said to be excruciatingly painful and can kill a human within minutes. Once the venom enters the body, the toxin targets heart muscle cells and pierce holes in them. This messes with the smooth contractions and relaxations of the heart muscles, effectively causing the heart to “lock” in contraction. Some box jellyfish stings can also lead to Irukandji syndrome, a painful, potentially lethal condition that leads to severe headache, muscle aches, chest pain, nausea and vomiting, sweating, and anxiety.

While fatalities are relatively rare — local media says this is the first reported box jellyfish death in Australia since 2006 —  health experts warn this young person's death is a stark reminder to remain extremely cautious while swimming in the northern waters of Australia during the summer.

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“If you don’t have a protective suit and you know there could be stingers or jellyfish in the water, just don’t go in,’’ Dr Marlow Coates, Torres and Cape Hospital and Health Service Northern Director of Medical Services, told 7News.

“It’s also important that people are familiar with resuscitation methods – early resuscitation after major stings from box jellies has saved lives in the past few years.’’


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