Vinegar Doesn’t Work On Jellyfish Stings And Could Do More Harm Than Good: Scientists

Researcher Jamie Seymour with a box jellyfish.

New research by Australian experts shows that using vinegar, the widespread Australian remedy for jellyfish stings, doesn’t work.

“Our research findings raise concerns that vinegar has the potential to do harm when used as first aid to treat box (and other) jellyfish stings,” Australian venom expert Associate Professor Jamie Seymour said.

The box jellyfish injects its venom by nematocysts which occur primarily on the tentacles but in some species may be present on body as well.

Nematocysts are little stinging darts which fire whenever the tentacle comes in contact with chemicals on the surface of its prey.

Vinegar is currently recommended as first aid if stung by the large box jellyfish in tropical Australia and in the USA for all jellyfish stings

However, researchers from the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine at James Cook University and Cairns Hospital discovered that vinegar promotes further discharge of venom from already discharged nematocysts.

Associate Professor Jamie Seymour of James Cook, Philippa Welfare (Cairns Hospital), Dr Mark Little (James Cook & Cairns Hospital), and Dr Peter Pereira (James Cook & Cairns Hospital) published a paper in the journal Diving and Hyperbaric Medicine examining the effect of vinegar on discharged nematocysts of the large box jellyfish (Chironex fleckeri).

Australian Resuscitation Council (ARC) guidelines state vinegar should be used for all box jelly fish stings.

“Our research shows this may not be the best course of action and it’s now for the ARC to consider whether its protocol should be changed,” Associate Professor Seymour says.

The study was funded by the Queensland Emergency Medicine Research Foundation.

Box jellyfish stings are rare but there have been more than 60 recorded deaths.

Watch the jellyfish in action: