Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Irukandji and Kate Hudson

If you've been following the movie news, you may have noticed that Kate Hudson was in Australia recently, filming a romantic action feature entitled "Fool's Gold." According to reports, the production was halted because Irukandji (Carukia barnesii) jellyfish were found in the waters that were slated for swimming scenes with Hudson and her co-star Matthew McConaughey. This stirred up quite a bit of press, with much speculation about why the jellyfish were in these waters, whether or not anyone had actually been stung, and what might have happened if anyone had become injured. I have no opinion about these matters, but there is certainly no doubt that the Irukandji is capable of a inflicting painful and powerful sting.

From the 5th edition of the textbook Wilderness Medicine, here is some information:

Carukia barnesii, the jellyfish known as “Irukandji,” is a small (1/2 to 1 inch across the bell) translucent jellyfish with four thin tentacles (2 to 3 1/2 inches in length at rest, and up to 30 inches extended) found off the coast of northern Australia in both inshore and open waters. Most stings occur near shore and during the afternoon. Because the jellyfish tend to aggregate, victims often present in clusters. Furthermore, victims can be stung inside stinger resistant enclosures when the mesh is small (approximately 1 inch diagonally). After causing a severe immediate skin reaction characterized by pain and redness, the venom may induce restlessness, muscle pain and spasm, severe lower back pain, lower leg pain, abdominal pain, breathing difficulty (including painful breathing), headache, shivering, tremors, nausea, and vomiting, which progress to profound weakness and collapse. Generally the discomfort remits in 6 to 24 hours; however, it occasionally recurs.

In a severe case, there can be intense abdominal and chest pain, a sensation of chest tightness, pale skin or bluish coloration in the fingers and toes, repeated vomiting, sweating, dangerously high blood pressure,rapid heartbeat, fluid in the lungs, brain swelling, and heart failure.

Although the systemic syndrome can be quite distinctive, there can be minimal skin signs of envenomation.

Although residents of Irukandji-endemic areas are often aware that stinger-resistant enclosures do not prevent entry of the smaller jellyfish, many tourists, particularly those from countries other than Australia, are not aware.

An Irukandji-like syndrome has been reported in South Florida divers, but the jellyfish species was not identified.

photo of Kate Hudson in Hawaii from

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.