Queensland teenager dies from box jellyfish sting in first fatality from the animal in 15 years

Mostafa Rachwani
·2 min read

A teenager has died a week after being stung by a box jellyfish while swimming at a beach on Queensland’s western Cape York.

It is the first recorded fatality from a box jellyfish sting in Australia in 15 years.

The 17-year-old boy was stung at Patterson Point, near Bamaga, on 22 February.

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A spokesperson for the Royal Flying Doctor Service said a team flew from Cairns and stabilised the teenager before transferring him to Townsville hospital’s intensive care unit.

A spokesperson for Queensland police confirmed the teenager died in hospital on Monday and that a report would be prepared by the coroner.

Marine biologist and jellyfish expert Dr Lisa-ann Gershwhin said the teenager’s death was preventable with better resources and education for remote communities.

“As a country we need to do better. There’s education programmes, there’s stinger nets, there’s protective clothing. There’s all these things that we use in the more populated areas of Queensland, in Cairns, Townsville and Mackay.

“But up on the cape, sadly, we really don’t. We don’t have those programmes in place and I think we have absolutely failed our remote communities.

“We have miserably failed, and this poor young man, and his family and his community are paying the price for that failure.”

Gershwhin said it was not difficult to implement measures to protect communities from what is considered the most venomous animal on the planet.

She explained that a sting from a box jellyfish was the only thing from the natural world that “locks the heart” in a contracted state.

“When that happens, things go very bad, very quickly and irreversibly. Because you cannot unlock a clenched heart. You cannot unclench a clenched muscle.”

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“So you can’t CPR it because there’s no passage for the blood to fill and be compressed and a defibrillator doesn’t work because it’s not going to be doing that.

“So the name of the game isn’t to rely on the treatment, because in most cases the treatment just isn’t fast enough. You can’t outrun that clenching of the muscle.”

The 17-year-old’s death is the 79th box jellyfish fatality since Australia began keeping records in the late 1800s.

Gershwhin said the last recorded death was in 2006 also occurred at Bamaga, near where the teenager was stung last month.

When asked how communities should respond, she said: “The one thing they should be doing the most to protect their safety from jellyfish is raising hell so that they get equal provision of safety and equal education.

“I would raise hell about needing the education, needing the safety provision, needing pools instead of the ocean, needing protective wear when people go in the water.