March 18, 2008

Miami Beach Saturated with Portuguese Man O' War
Miami Beach, United States

One of many Man O' War found on Miami Beach

OK, that's scary… I did a little research on the odd-looking jellyfish that I found washed up on the beach (in great numbers) yesterday, and discovered that they're Portuguese Man O' War (which are actually siphonophores, not jellyfish).

I'm familiar with the name and dangerous reputation of the Man O' War, but really had no idea what one looked like. Frankly, I thought they were only found around the shores of Australia, but seem to have confused it with the hyper-toxic (read: deadly) box jellyfish.

I really hate jellyfish (and siphonophores, apparently), and the idea of these things floating around in the water here scares me. I'm freaked out a little by the sharks as it is, but tossing indigo balloons with deadly tentacles that can reach up to 165 feet (50 meters) long into the mix is a little much.

Wikipedia has this to say:

The sting from the tentacles is dangerous to humans. These stings usually cause excruciating pain, and have even been the cause of several deaths. Detached tentacles and specimens which wash up on shore can sting just as painfully as the intact creature in the water for weeks after their detachment. The venom can travel up to the lymph nodes and may cause, depending on the amount of venom, more intense pain.

With extensive or repeated exposures systemic reactions can take place, such as; nausea, vomiting, headaches, dizziness, muscle weakness, excessive tearing, runny nose, painful breathing, and irregular heart rate may occur. Medical attention is usually necessary, especially in extreme cases.

How to treat the average Portuguese Man O' War sting encountered on Miami Beach

  1. Pick off any visible tentacles with a gloved hand, stick, or anything handy, being careful to avoid further injury.
  2. Rinse the sting thoroughly with salt or fresh water to remove any adhering tentacles.
  3. Apply ice for pain control.
  4. Irrigate exposed eyes with copious amounts of room temperature tap water for at least 15 minutes. If vision blurs, or the eyes continue to tear, hurt, swell, or are light sensitive after irrigating, see a doctor.
  5. For persistent itching or skin rash, try 1 percent hydrocortisone ointment four times a day, and one or two 25 milligram diphenhydramine (Benadryl) tablets every 6 hours. These drugs are sold without prescription. Diphenhydramine may cause drowsiness. Don't drive, swim or surf after taking this medication.

Although formerly considered effective, vinegar is no longer recommended for Portuguese Man O' War stings. In a laboratory experiment, vinegar dousing caused discharge of nematocysts from the larger (P. physalis) Man O' War species. The effect of vinegar on the nematocysts of the smaller species (which has less severe stings) is mixed: vinegar inhibited some, discharged others.

No studies support applying heat to Man O' War stings. Studies on the effectiveness of meat tenderizer, baking soda, papain, or commercial sprays (containing aluminum sulfate and detergents) on nematocyst stings have been contradictory. It's possible these substances cause further damage. In one U.S. Portuguese Man O' War fatality, lifeguards sprayed papain solution immediately on the victim's sting. Within minutes, the woman was comatose, and later died.

Alcohol and human urine may be harmful on Portuguese Man O' War stings. An Australian study reports that both alcohol and urine caused massive nematocyst discharge in the box jellyfish, Chironex fleckeri.

Most Portuguese Man O' War stings disappear by themselves, sometimes within 15 or 20 minutes. Because of this, even harmful therapies often appear to work. A key concept in the first aid of any injury is: Do no harm. Therefore, avoid applying unproven, possibly harmful substances on stings.

Comments:

South Africa

David

March 18th, 2008

We have these guys here as well sometimes. Nasty…

The United States

T

March 18th, 2008

Be careful…

Argentina

Jeff

March 18th, 2008

I'm reminded of a scene in a novel, The Paperboy by Pete Dexter (I think), where a guy swimming in Florida is bitten by a bunch of jellyfish. He is saved by 5 female nursing students swimming nearby who pull him out of the water then piss all over him to neutralize the jellyfish stings.

Despite the fetish nature of that scene, it's actually a good book.

The United States

Craig | travelvice.com

March 18th, 2008

@Jeff: hehe — some people pay good money for that

Peru

Patricia

March 18th, 2008

Holly mother of God !!! it`s so beautiful … in PerĂ¹ we call those "MALAGUAS" … is kind of beautiful and at the same time disgusting.
kisses… we miss you guys !!

Australia

Brodie

March 18th, 2008

Where I swim in Australia there are often jellyfish, they sting a little but are more anoying than dangerous. Whapping jellyfish with my hand or face tends to put me off my stroke a little.

They sell anti-sting cream in different parts of the world but not in Australia, so I did a bit of research and found the company that manufactures it and imported it privately. I've found that it works for me - while wearing it I didn't get stung.

http://www.nidaria.com/index.html
http://www.news-medical.net/?id=2162

According to their research, it is about 90% effective in preventing jellyfish
stings, including stings by blue-bottle (i.e. man-o-war) and box jellyfish. I still use it when swimming in jellyfish water.

When I was inquiring with the company they told me that "Safe Sea is sold and was approved by the authorities in many countries as Japan, USA and all European countries." No distributer in Australia yet due to regulatory hassles.

I always figured that it is because the authorities know that there are some Australians who are stupid enough to smother themselves in the cream and proceed to swim in the middle of summer jellyfish season up north expecting that it will save them from the box jellyfish (or irukandji or any of the other types we have here).

The United Kingdom

Richard Webb

July 13th, 2008

Portuguese men o war are beautiful but can be deadly. Always handle with extreme care. The pain from a sting can set in within the first 5-10mins and can be treated if got to hospital quick enough.

Canada

Allison

November 10th, 2008

I was recently stung in Cuba, on the beaches of Jibacoa. Apparently on certain windy days they blow in, in drones. I was stung all over and it didn't matter at that time if some (or more) 'golden showered' on me, as I was in excrutiating pain. I never wish this on anyone. I was saved by the lifeguard and other men on the beach as I could not walk (legs, arms, stomach all stung) and immediatly taken to the doctor, where they applied a warm water mixed with vinegar all over. It was very soothing. They then shot me in the butt with benedryl, and prescribed me to sit in the hottub for up to 45 minutes till the sting went away. The doctor then checked my vitals again and I was good to go. They only charged me $35 for the entire treatment (4hrs) and followed up on me when we passed on the resort. There was still the odd 'reflex' of a muscle spasm throughout the next day but I was much better within hours of seeing the doc. I am now home and okay, but experiencing flare ups and the itching feeling. I am up now (4:00 am PST) due to the need to scratch and needed some adivce. The itching is almost as bad as the initial impact itself (no, I would rather scratch). Thank you for the information, I am about to take the benedryl and apply the lotion. Do NOT swim in the waters on Yellow or Red flag.

The United States

Nina

March 20th, 2011

I live in Houston Tx and have recently been to the beach. I had never seen a jellyfish so i found them very weird looking. The Portuguese Man O' War jellyfish were all around. Many were washed up on the shore. Its funny how i barely found out that they could be dangerous and painful and i was in the water for hours!

The United States

Brooke Toole

December 7th, 2011

I went to Charleston S.C yesterday and was walking on the beach, there were thousands and thousands of these things and some one told me that they were Peruvian Jellyfish. I had never seen any like these before. And Dang… Tentacles a 165 feet…thats scary. remind me to not get in the water. But I would like to know why soooo many had died at the same time. And were in Charleston for that matter.

Canada

Sherry

February 22nd, 2012

Hi All,

My husband was stung by one of these last week while on vacation in Cuba. We had no idea at the time, what it was, but he said his body burned like hell. (Got him on the chest, buttocks and hands). A man saw this and approached us saying it was toxic and go see the Dr. So we did. Although not deadly, they are quite toxic and dangerous.
The Dr treated my husband with salt, waited 1/2 hour then sat in a hot tub of water, then was prescribed cortizone cream, and pills to take every 4 hrs. He also got a shot up the butt. And had to stay out of the sun for the rest of the day.
This was the least fun day of our vacation, but at least he survived. So I warn everyone if your close to any ocean water be careful and do not approach anything blue. Their testicles reach out up to 10 feet we're told.

Canada

Teo

March 23rd, 2012

I was stung by one yesterday. My fingers swelled and I could not remove my ring, my thumb was so painful and itchy. I rinsed few minutes later with salt water not knowing it was this Portuguese Man of war responsible for it. Twenty minutes later I took a shower. Still in pain. By evening I had chills, fever, diarrhea and muscle cramps and every part of my body is achy. I am home now and still weak not sure if here in Canada I would be treated if I show up in emerge.

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