Irukandji syndrome is caused by a sting from a tiny box jellyfish, Carukia barnesi. This the Irukandji Jellyfish takes its common name from the aboriginal Irukandji tribe who live along the north Queensland tropical coast. The Irukandji Jellyfish is not confined here and they are found around Fiji, Indonesia and Thailand though and stings have been reported as far away as the West Indies. It is suggested that this may be caused by related species of jellyfish causing the same condition.
Though normally not fatal the stings can produce a variety of symptoms (first documented in 1952 by Hugo Flecker). Scarely noticed at first the onset tend to progress over a couple of hours. These include feelings of impending doom couple with severe widespread bodily pains and cramps as well as nausea, vomiting, irregular heart beat and pulmonary oedema. A healthy adult can be expected to make a full recovery in about a fortnight. Recovered patients describe having experienced the most extreme of all possible pain and wishing they were dead.
There is no antidote as such to the sting. Flushing the area of the sting with vinegar to neutralise the tendrils is the first step and gently removing these. The victim then has to wait it out supported by painkillers and anti-histamines.
For an account of an encounter with a less deadly jelly read Should I Be Here or Somewhere Else
People had suffered with Irukandji syndrome since the first sting without knowing the cause. The initial sting is quite small and can go unnoticed and symptoms only starting to take effect some 10-20 minutes later with the victim some distance away. A number of theories had been put forward as to the cause.
It was in 1964 when Doctor J.H. Barnes was investigating the site of a recent Irukandji syndrome attack that he noticed some small unfamiliar jellyfish in the water. He decided to see what would happen if he stung himself, his nine year old son and the beach lifeguard who was assisting him in his search. All three of them became the latest victims of the Irukandji Syndrome and had to be rushed to Cairns hos[pital where they suffered in excruciating pain for some days. All survived and the jellfish was named after Dr Barnes...Carukia barnesi.