Hold The Vinegar – We’re Still Using It To Treat Jellyfish Stings For Now

A box jellyfish. Supplied

Health authorities will make no immediate change to the recommended treatment of jellyfish stings in Australia following publication of a research paper which suggested using vinegar may actually increase the venom discharged.

Australian Institute of Tropical Health & Medicine researchers from James Cook University and Cairns Hospital this week announced the results of a study which questioned the effectiveness of using vinegar on jellyfish stings.

Venom expert Jamie Seymour said the research findings raised concerns that vinegar has the potential to do harm when used as first aid to treat a sting from a box jellyfish.

But not everyone is convinced the findings really show that vinegar is ineffective or could even make the situation worse.

The key question is whether or not vinegar promotes more venom being discharged via nematocysts, little stinging darts which fire from the tentacles.

Vinegar has been for years been the recommended first aid if stung by the large box jellyfish in tropical Australia.

The Australian Resuscitation Council (ARC) is evaluating the results of the study and hasn’t yet changed its recommendation to use of vinegar as first aid.

“As part of the ARCs ongoing guideline development process the findings of this study will be critically evaluated by the council to determine if changes to the current ARC recommendations are required,” says Professor Ian Jacobs National, chair of the resuscitation council.

“Until this review process is complete, the ARC continues to recommend the use of vinegar for the treatment of Box Jellyfish stings.”

Ken Winkel, Director of the Australian Venom Research Unit at the University of Melbourne, says there’s clearly been a lot of public confusion created from the reporting of the study results.

“They have created headlines from a very incomplete study,” Dr Winkel says. “Obviously this needs assessment in a more clinically realistic model.”

Winkel recommends the app Australian Bites and Stings, which says to wash the stung area with lots of vinegar and if that’s not available to use sea water.

The app is available from Google and iTunes.

Other experts are reportedly questioning the new Australian study.

Angel Yanagihara, a professor at the University of Hawaii, told Discover magazine she found the paper questionable on many levels, from the methodology to the conclusions.

Later, Yanagihara said Seymour’s battery-timulated tentacle on a placental membrane experimental model is not a proxy for a true human sting.

She says there’s more than 30 years of authentic field evidence of vinegar use to remove tentacles.

“In order to make this claim, Seymour must publish an actual clinical trial,” she told Business Insider Australia in an email.

“It is not just the electrical stimulation I object to, it is the whole assertion that this non-validated model authentically represents an actual sting.”

However, associate professor Seymour was unimpressed at reports of criticism of the study.

“The science people are allowed to have their opinions,” he told Business Insider Australia. “The short answer is that when those people produce some data to show otherwise then we’ll take it seriously. Until then it’s nothing worthwhile talking about.”

He says vinegar has been the first aid of choice in Australia since at least the 1980s.

“I was certainly one of the people who was standing there saying use vinegar, use vinegar, use vinegar,” he says

“But the data we have now suggests that’s not the most appropriate thing to do.

“If they (box jellyfish victims) are going to die they are going to do so in the first two minutes. You keep them alive and then get them to hospital to treat the pain.

“So if you’re not going to die then just pull the tentacles off with your finger. If the person is in a state where they have stopped breathing or their heart stops … then it’s CPR.”