Wednesday, 27 August 2014

French boy, 5, died on Koh Phangan after box jelly fish sting

By now the news has gone around the world about the French 5 year old boy who died on Koh Phangan's Bottle beach after being stung by a box jelly fish. It's terrible sad news but I do hope that this will be a wake up call to the General Managers of hotels around Koh Samui and Koh Phangan and the local authorities, to put up warning signs and vinegar stations on the beaches around the islands.
A Thai work group, with whom I met in 2010, have immediately come down to visit the islands and help with dealing with the issue and hopefully they can convince local authorities on how to proceed with prevention and raise awareness.

Over the last few years I have on a regular base written about box jelly fish, and this post from 2012 has been the most popular and most visited post on my blog. More than double the amount of visits compared to my 2nd popular blog post. On my dive blog, I have also made various posts about box jelly fish, please visit here to read more.

Chironex type box jelly fish photographed at Chaweng Beach a few years back by Sakanan Plathong

Chironex type box jelly fish photographed at Chaweng Beach a few years back by Sakanan Plathong

It's not about 'scare mongering' but awareness can go a long way and hopefully help prevent situations with such a tragic outcome. Stinger suits and vinegar go a long way. Although the use of vinegar is under discussion at the moment, it's still the recommended way of action for immediate on the spot treatment.

Box jelly fish treatment flow chart


1. Begin CPR if required and call for medical assistance
2. Immediately pour vinegar over sting area for at least 30 seconds
3. After using the vinegar, place cold packs or ice on the wound to ease the pain and reduce skin damage
4. Seek medical attention


Bluebottle (with single main tentacle)- Remove tentacles, immerse sting area in hot water or apply cold pack*, do NOT use vinegar
All others - Remove tentacles, apply cold pack to sting area

the morning glory plant found along the coast throughout the tropics is at best a mild analgesic and not recommended.

once the vinegar has done its job and the threat of envenomation ceased, the pain can last a few hours and can be managed locally with ice packs.

once the pain has subsided there is a risk of infection so the sting should be treated much like a burn.

depending on the approach you want to take, cortisone based cream, vitamin e cream, calendula, pawpaw etc could all be good in keeping the wound clean, avoiding secondary infection and aiding healing of the scarring.

The vinegar will not stop the the venom already in the wound but will immobilize any other stingers and prevent them from discharging. Try to rub the remaining tentacles off your body with a credit card like object, not with your fingers!

Any reports from box jelly fish sightings in Thailand or the South East Asian region can be reported to DAN Asia Pacific who are keen to collect information about these stings in Thailand. Please contact John Lippmann through their website.

Another good source of information is the box jelly fish in Thailand blog.

To prevent your children from box jelly fish stings, get these stinger suits

 Stinger suits for children

Don't forget to use my Camille's Samui hotel recommendation blog and my Camille's Thailand hotel recommendation blog for all your hotel bookings on Koh Samui and around Thailand. By doing so, you will support my blog. Thanks folks!



Dawn in Phuket said...

Thanks for the useful info Camille!
There does seem to be varying information on how to deal with stings, some say pull off tentacles only AFTER pouring vinegar over them. I have read that by pulling them off while still active (before pouring vinegar) can make the sting worse as it causes more of the venom needles to push into your skin. Now I must go and read more of your blogs and links!

Camille said...

Hi Dawn,
The new line of thinking is that although vinegar neutralizes all stingers that haven't fired yet, the stingers that did fire, may be intensified with 60%, hence warm water should be used.
Stingers should be scraped off with a credit card or similar utensil, never with your bare hands/fingers. I would imagine after they have been treated.

Camille said...

An update on the vinegar vs water treatment;
Vinegar will dis-arm the majority of the venomous stinging cells at the very least. If it is applied soon enough, the tentacle can then be quickly removed. Sea water does nothing except maybe loosen the tentacle’s grip on the skin. While the tentacle is in contact with the skin the cells keep firing like a slow release system. When the tentacle first makes contact it does a lot of firing, then it slows down but keeps going. If touched by a hand or object or fresh water at this point, it’s like a booby trap and lets fire with a massive one-off explosion. Vinegar is known to do a complete disarmament of un-fired cells - perhaps this at least makes the odds of survival greater.

Tore said...

Hi Camille!

I've had a look at your blog and you seem both friendly and full of expertise on the subject of dangerous jellies in Thailand, so I thought I might as well try and contact you directly for advise. :)

We're a norwegian couple who are going to Koh Samui for two weeks at the end of january / start of february. We're both biologists and of course interested in Koh Samui's wildlife, but .. we're also a little scared by it! I know there are mosquitos that carry dengue fever and harmful jellyfish, which is why I'm sending you this email ..

I'm an avid swimmer / bather and, although I don't particularly mind the mild stings of the local lion's mane jellies, I usually try to get an overview of the water just so I have some control of how many there are and roughly where. However, I also know how easy it is to swim right into them when I'm snorkeling, so I'm not comfortable with relying solely on my powers of observation either ..

On Koh Samui, we want to spend a lot of time in the water snorkeling and so on. I thought in order to prevent jellyfish stings, it might be good to avoid activities in which you cover large amounts of water, like jet skiing and it would be good to get an overview of where you swim, but there are just a lot of uncertainties and I was hoping you could help us some.

F.ex how big is the problem? We'll be staying at Na Phralan beach, I think it is called, in Mae Nam, but I expect we will go swimming elsewhere as well. We certainly want to go snorkeling .. For general swimming and snorkeling, would you recommend something like these stinger suits? Should we bring a flask of vinegar with us to the beach? Do you have any other tips?

Kind regards,

Camille said...

Hi Tore,

Thanks for your message and your interest in the topic of marine life around Koh Samui, especially in the presence of box jelly fish.

As already stated in my blog posts, the chance of being stung by a box jelly fish is very small, but a little bit of preparation and awareness can go a long way. A stinger suit is the best option, although you will most likely be the only person to wear one around the Gulf islands! To always have a bottle of vinegar at hand is also a good plan.

Other than that there is not too much advise I can give you. Maybe be careful near mangrove areas, since they are used as breeding grounds by box jellies.

Visibility around the Samui waters in January and February isn’t the best and I do hope you enjoy snorkeling. Lamia has some good options, for instance at Silver beach. The beach in front of Maenam is mainly sandy without coral.

Hope this helps for now but please let me know if you have any further questions.