The jellyfish, “untouchable marine animal”

Women and men like Lorena, Antonio, Susana, Eloy, Maria, Pedro, Cristina, Arby, Encarna or Rafa, who represent millions and millions of people around the world, know how to describe, more or less, the jellyfish … an animal seemingly fragile that has been modeled by natural evolution with a flared silhouette, a gelatinous body and a series of tentacles filled with stinging cells.

Especially in the summer time, or when global warming unexpectedly increases the temperature of the marine waters, they appear dead, or almost, in the sand of the beaches; or we can observe them in the light of the waves, diving, in an aquarium, in encyclopedias, in a documentary, in a television newscast or simply browsing through a video on YouTube.

Rippling and mysterious, a primal living being that is part of the 10,000 classes of coelenterates that live in our seas and oceans, suddenly awakes us from our summer joy when our naked skin, playful, rubs or touches its toxic skin, armed with thorns, and we shouted … Oh, a jellyfish stung me! 

Dr. Eduardo López Bran
Dr. Eduardo López Bran , chief dermatologist of the San Carlos University Clinical Hospital of Madrid and director of Clínica Imema. 

Medical treatment against the poison of jellyfish

The news from EFE informed us about the more than 3,900 people who suffered jellyfish stings on the coast of Volusia (Florida, USA) during the first fifteen days of June of this year; or of the countless Portuguese Caravels ( Physalia phisalis) , which are not really jellyfish, but a siphonophore hydrozoon, which have forced to put “the danger flag” on many Mediterranean beaches of Spain.

Depending on the type of jellyfish, its venom, composed of protein structures and peptides, can cause hives, redness, edema, intense pain and bleeding in the area of ​​the sting, fever, nausea, muscular or nervous paralysis, drowsiness, respiratory problems, vomiting and even abdominal pains.

“The jellyfish we usually come in contact with cause minor health problems, such as redness, inflammation, burning and pain; symptoms that return in a very short time, in hours, although sometimes the poison can lead to an allergic reaction, a serious event that requires specialized attention in Emergencies “, highlights Dr. López Bran.

The jellyfish of the saltwater lake of Kabakan, located in a remote and uninhabited region of the island of Borneo, to which they attract many tourists, have a particularity: they have lost the urticating power in a habitat without predatory species.
The jellyfish of the saltwater lake of Kabakan (Indonesia), located in a remote and uninhabited region of the island of Borneo, have a particularity: they have lost the urticating power in a habitat without predatory species.  EFE / Paula Regueira Leal

Preventive measures to be “untouchable”

“In addition to common sense, you have to follow a series of recommendations to avoid jellyfish bites,” says the dermatologist:

  • Do not bathe in beaches that signal the presence of jellyfish with flags and do not touch the living or dead body of this invertebrate being that we found on the shore, which can still cause toxicity.
  • Get away from the jellyfish when we meet them face to face in the water … “Remember the saying that says curiosity killed the cat”.
  • Wearing lycra shirts or neoprene suits (surfers) for the bathroom.
  • Apply jellyfish repellent gels and creams.

And when the jellyfish bite us, in spite of everything?

A young girl is cured of a jellyfish sting by a member of Civil Protection in one of the beaches of the Granada town of Salobreña (Spain).
A young girl is cured of a jellyfish sting by a member of Civil Protection in one of the beaches of the Granada town of Salobreña (Spain). 
  • Remove the remains of tentacles that may be on the skin. This operation should never be done directly with your hands, always with tweezers and gloves.
  • Next, apply physiological saline, if we have it, or salt water on the affected area. Never fresh water, since the difference in pressure can cause the explosion of the cnidocytes (stinging cells of attached tentacles).
  • To alleviate the effects of the toxin, we can wash the area with hot water; and, depending on the species of jellyfish – Alatina alata in Hawaii (USA) or the  Chironex fleckeri in Australia – apply vinegar, never in Spain. In any case, this vinegar remedy is not recommended until you clean the skin profusely.
  • Avoid exposure of the wound to sunlight, as well as scratching.
  • Do not rub with towels; much less with the sand on the beach or any object or thing that can aggravate the damage.
  • If the symptoms worsen, the most sensible thing is to go to the doctor or the emergency services, who can bandage the area after the cure, prescribe corticoid creams and antihistamines.

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