Box jellyfish

Box jellyfish have a rounded box shape, with venomous tentacles hanging from their body.

They are more likely to be in Northern Territory (NT) waters from 1 October to 1 June during ‘stinger season’.

However, their stings have been recorded all months of the year.

They may also be difficult to see because they appear colourless.

Habitat

Box jellyfish live in the shallow waters of the northern Australian coast.

After local rain and in calm seas, there may be many:

  • near river and creek outlets
  • around boat ramps.

Threat

Box jellyfish have venom in their tentacles that can sting and kill a person in under five minutes.

Children are also at greater risk because of their smaller body mass.

Since 1975, there have been 14 deaths in the Top End - all children.

If you're stung

If you’re stung, you may feel mild to severe pain and develop a goose bump-like skin reaction.

Your symptoms may also worsen to:

  • severe limb, abdominal and back pain
  • anxiety
  • a headache
  • vomiting
  • profuse sweating
  • difficulty breathing
  • irregular heart rate and increased blood pressure
  • Irukandji syndrome.

In extreme cases, it can lead to heart failure, swelling of the brain and death.

You should seek immediate treatment.

For more information, go to the Surf Life Saving NT website.

Irukandji syndrome

Irukandji syndrome is a condition that has mild to life-threatening symptoms.

It can occur from certain types of box jellyfish that have been found in the NT.

They may have much smaller bodies, with some as small as a thumbnail and only 4 tentacles – one off each corner of their body.

Treatment

If you or someone has been stung, follow these steps:

Step 1. Get out of the water.

Step 2. Call 000 for help or get a lifeguard to help you if they're available.

Step 3. Assess and start CPR if needed.

Step 4. Pour vinegar on the sting - don't use fresh water.

Step 5. If vinegar is not available, pick off any remaining tentacles - your fingers and palms have thicker skin so stinging will usually be minor

Step 6. Seek urgent medical help and go to a hospital immediately - antivenom treatment may be needed in severe stings.

You can also use ice or hot packs for minor stings or only ice packs for severe stings.

Prevention

To prevent a sting, you should stay out of the water where there may be jellyfish, especially during the ‘stinger season’.

If you enter the water, wear clothing that covers your exposed skin.

The more skin you cover, the greater the protection.

Special stinger suits are also available for those who do coastal water activities.

Contact

For more information, contact your nearest Centre for Disease Control.


Last updated: 30 September 2022

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