The Irukandji, found around Australia and increasingly worldwide, leave victims begging doctors to kill them
With the bitter cold of April’s bizarre weather finally having seemed to turn a corner and spring threatening to turn into Summer any day now, thoughts turn towards the beach and the inherent dangers that come with a dip in the sea. Between scarlet bands of sunburn to sandwiches with more crunch than there should be, a trip to the beach can sometimes be more hassle than it’s worth. But be grateful that a quick paddle in the icy Atlantic won’t leave you questioning your very mortality.
Irukandji, the name given to a number of jellyfish species found around Australia and the Pacific Ocean, may only be an inch in length, but their sting is so brutal and causes a string of symptoms so odd they’ve lent their name to an entire syndrome. With victims uncontrollably vomiting, suffering headaches and cramps, and an anxiety so severe that scientists have taken to calling it enduring “a feeling of impending doom.”
Those who get stung – provided they get the necessary medical attention – won’t actually perish from the tiny sting, but will often wish they could just to get past the brutal series of side effects. “Patients believe they’re going to die,” Australian marine biologist Lisa Gershwin told ABC radio, “And they’re so certain of it that they’ll actually beg their doctors to kill them just to get it over with.”
The relentless nausea and vomiting every two minutes for twelve hours is paired with a lower back pain so acute, Gershwin said it resembles “an electric drill drilling into your back.” With the constant cramping, patients typically sweat so much that their medical team needs to wring out the bed sheets every 15 minutes.
The Irukandji Syndrome owes its name to a tribe of indigenous Australians based in Queensland, whose members were often observed dealing with the bizarre series of symptoms without any clear explanation as to why. The jellyfish species was finally identified in the 1960s by an Australian scientist named John Barnes, who tested the toxic sting on himself, a lifeguard, and his nine-year-old son.
Irish waters play host to five indigenous species of jellyfish: Barrel, Blue, Common (Moon), Compass, and Lion’s Main. A brush against the latter will result in a severe sting, but the rest should only cause some mild irritation. Any swimmer who does suffer a sting should remember to remove any tentacles without touching them with your bare skin, to rinse out the affected area with seawater (and not fresh water, vinegar, alcohol, or urine), and to apply an ice pack to the sting. If there is anything more than minor discomfort, make your way to your nearest A&E department.
But chances are you’ll end up slurping a 99 rather than wishing you were dead.
[H/T: NY Mag]