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J Travel Med. 2011 Jul-Aug;18(4):275-81. doi: 10.1111/j.1708-8305.2011.00531.x. Epub 2011 Jun 15.

Fatal and severe box jellyfish stings, including Irukandji stings, in Malaysia, 2000-2010.

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Divers Alert Network Asia-Pacific, Ashburton, Melbourne, VIC 3147, Australia.



Jellyfish are a common cause of injury throughout the world, with fatalities and severe systemic events not uncommon after tropical stings. The internet is a recent innovation to gain information on real-time health issues of travel destinations, including Southeast Asia.


We applied the model of internet-based retrospective health data aggregation, through the Divers Alert Network Asia-Pacific (DAN AP), together with more conventional methods of literature and media searches, to document the health significance, and clinical spectrum, of box jellyfish stings in Malaysia for the period January 1, 2000 to July 30, 2010.


Three fatalities, consistent with chirodropid envenomation, were identified for the period-all tourists to Malaysia. Non-fatal chirodropid stings were also documented. During 2010, seven cases consistent with moderately severe Irukandji syndrome were reported to DAN and two representative cases are discussed here. Photographs of chirodropid (multi-tentacled), carybdeid (four-tentacled) box jellyfish, and of severe sting lesions were also submitted to DAN during this period.


This study suggests that the frequency and severity of jellyfish stings affecting tourists in Southeast Asia have been significantly underestimated. Severe and fatal cases of chirodropid-type stings occur in coastal waters off Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah, Borneo. Indeed, the first Malaysian cases consistent with Irukandji-like syndrome are reported here. Reports to DAN, a provider of emergency advice to divers, offer one method to address the historic lack of formalized reporting mechanisms for such events, for photo-documentation of the possible culprit species and treatment advice. The application of marine stinger prevention and treatment principles throughout the region may help reduce the incidence and severity of such stings. Meanwhile travelers and their medical advisors should be aware of the hazards of these stings throughout the Asia-Pacific.

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