Deadly box jellyfish sightings in Singapore: Don't pee on the sting - it could actually make it worse

PHOTO: Facebook/Carolyn David, Pixabay

Remember that episode in the US sitcom Friends when Chandler peed on Monica's leg after she got stung by a jellyfish because Joey said it would lessen the pain? Well, it's a lie.

And, according to some experts, peeing on a jellyfish sting will actually make it worse.

In Singapore, at least two people have been stung by deadly box jellyfish recently, with four sightings reported just this month alone, according to The New Paper.

Two of the sightings were at Sentosa's One Degree 15 Marina and Palawan beach, where a four-year-old girl was stung on July 17.

The girl's quick-thinking mother poured vinegar on her daughter's leg, easing the child's pain and possibly saving her life. 

Facebook/Carolyn David

The box jellyfish is considered one of the most venomous marine animals, with toxins that attack the heart, nervous system and skin cells. The pain has been known to cause people to go into shock or die of heart failure. Victims may also risk drowning after being stung in the water.

So, what should you do if you're stung?

Victims should try to apply or flood the area with vinegar, says S.E.A. Aquarium's aquarist Vivian Cavan.

Vinegar will stop the nematocysts (stinging cells) from discharging more venom. If vinegar is not available, warm water can help lessen the pain, but you should quickly get medical attention.

"Please, don’t do that (pee on the sting). It’s a myth and it actually makes it worse," says Cavan.

The sodium in your urine, coupled with the velocity of the urine stream may move the stingers, which could trigger the release of even more venom, states Healthline. 

One should also note that stings that cover more than one limb are considered life-threatening, according to Singapore's National Parks Board (NParks), who published an advisory concerning box jellyfish sightings.

Here are some other recommendations from NParks if you are stung by jellyfish while at the beach:

  • Do not rub the wound or attempt to remove the tentacles as this can cause more venom to be released
  • Flood the sting area with vinegar, or seawater if vinegar is not immediately available, then remove tentacles using a towel or tweezers
  • If the pain worsens, it may not be a box jellyfish sting. Stop using vinegar and use seawater only
  • Seek medical attention immediately

Precautions that one can take include leaving as little skin exposed as possible when swimming at the beach, and to always have someone with you in case of any distress.

You can also bring along a bottle of plain vinegar and wear a flotation device or life jacket. And remember to keep away from any jellyfish in water or washed up to shore.

candicecai@asiaone.com