What to do if you are stung by a Portuguese man o’ war

Marine animal washes up in large numbers along Irish coastline as far north as Donegal

A Portuguese man o’ war photographed recently on the southwest coast. A marine biologist has warned they have an extremely dangerous sting and should not be handled. Photograph: Vincent Hyland/Wild Derrynane

A Portuguese man o’ war photographed recently on the southwest coast. A marine biologist has warned they have an extremely dangerous sting and should not be handled. Photograph: Vincent Hyland/Wild Derrynane

 

NUI Galway Ryan Institute marine biologist Dr Tom Doyle has reiterated his warning that Portuguese men o’ war, currently being washed up on the west coast, have extremely dangerous stings.

There have been up to three documented fatalities worldwide as a result of the venom emitted by the marine animals - which are not jellyfish, technically.

Dr Doyle is not aware to date of any serious incidents on this coast, due to the fact that the Portuguese man o’ war is so rarely sighted here. However, he has warned both surfers and sea swimmers to be extremely vigilant.

Dr Doyle is currently working with Dr Angel Yanagihara, an expert in animal toxins at the University of Hawaii, on re-evaluating treatment protocols for stings, as there is some evidence that immersion in hot water may improve patient outcomes.

A Portuguese man o’ war located by Vincent Hyland in Derrynane, Co Kerry is currently being examined as part of this research by NUIG Ryan Institute PhD student Jasmine Headlam.

In the interim, the advice given by Irish Water Safety in conjunction with the Beaumont Poison Centre and other experts is:

- Ensure you don’t get stung yourself when aiding others.

- Remove any attached tentacles with a gloved hand, stick, or towel. If none of these are available, use the tips of your fingers.

- Do not rub the affected area as this may result in further venom release.

- Rinse the affected area with sea-water - do not use fresh water, vinegar, alcohol or urine.

- Apply a “dry cold pack” to the area, ie, place a cold pack or ice inside a plastic bag and then wrap this package in a t-shirt or other piece of cloth.

- Seek medical attention if there is anything other than minor discomfort.

- If the patient is suffering from swelling, breathing difficulties, palpitation or chest tightness, go to the nearest emergency department urgently.

These guidelines were drawn up by the Jellyfish Action Group of Ireland and Wales which includes experts form Beaumont Poison Centre and pre-hospital emergency care, A&E consultants, local GPs, and water safety officers.

If travelling abroad, people are advised to seek advice for that specific country.