A Queensland marine specialist is calling for a popular holiday hotspot to be closed immediately after four children were airlifted to hospital over two days following suspected stings from deadly irukandji jellyfish.
In the latest incident, the RACQ LifeFlight Rescue chopper was called out to Fraser Island (K’Gari) on Wednesday afternoon to pick up a primary school aged boy. He had reportedly been swimming in the popular Wathumba Creek on the western side of the island when he was stung on the upper leg.
After the pilot managed to land the aircraft on the beach, the crew transported the boy, along with his mother, to Hervey Bay Hospital in a stable condition.
The suspected irukandji attack comes just a day after three young girls were stung along the same creek.
The rescue chopper was first sent out at 11am on Tuesday to retrieve a primary school aged girl who was suffering envenomation symptoms.
Just an hour after the CareFlight crew had transferred her into the care of medical staff at Hervey Bay Hospital 15 kilometres away, they were called back to the island after two sisters were stung across their upper chests. The girls, aged five and nine, were also taken to the same hospital in a stable condition.
Expert urges swimmers to stay out of the water
The spate of suspected irukandji attacks has prompted toxinologist and James Cook University’s Associate Professor Jamie Seymour to issue a dire warning to swimmers about the small, extremely venomous species of box jellyfish.
“If you’re down on Fraser Island on the western side of the island at the moment, I would not be getting in the water, it is that simple,” he told Yahoo News Australia.
“We have no research on what happens down there apart from stuff we had 15 years ago when we first found them there. So the only option you have, and I am surprised that they haven't done this, is shut the beach and shut that western side of Fraser Island where people are.”
He explained that with more people at the beach during summer, the risk is greater than ever.
“When you put more and more people in the water, like over the Christmas holidays, your chance of being stung increases because there's more people in the water,” he said, adding that there is still so much we don’t know about irukandji jellyfish.
Victims to call Triple-0 immediately
But some statistics are clear.
“Probably about 80 per cent of people that get stung are going to end up with severe pain, so eight to nine out of 10 pain scores, and they're going to spend probably six to 12 hours in hospital," Associate Professor Seymour explained. “They have this severe body pain, often low back pain, nausea, vomiting, and this feeling of impending doom that sort of lays over the top of this whole thing.”
For the toxinologist, the pain has been first-hand. He’s been stung not once but 11 times all in the name of research.
“It's a surreal, absolute surreal pain,” he told Yahoo News Australia. “If someone had given me an option to leave the planet, I would have taken it.”
In extreme cases, about 10 to 15 per cent of people will end up in ICU with a hypertensive crisis or decreased cardiac volume, while it is not known if children are more susceptible to irukandji syndrome.
Anyone stung by an irukandji jellyfish, which are about two centimetres in diameter, should avoid rubbing the sting area, immediately douse the sting area with vinegar for at least 30 seconds and call Triple-0.
“I would suggest that everybody should jump on the phone and ring Triple-0, these are the guys that you're going to need,” Associate Professor Seymour said. “If it's irukandji, you're going to go to hospital, so the sooner you can get the Triple-0 people on board, the better off you can be.”
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