Jellyfish envenoming syndromes: unknown toxic mechanisms and unproven therapies

Paul M Bailey, Mark Little, George A Jelinek and Jacqueline A Wilce
Med J Aust 2003; 178 (1): . || doi: 10.5694/j.1326-5377.2003.tb05040.x
Published online: 6 January 2003

Interest in envenoming syndromes caused by Australian jellyfish has been intense since the deaths in early 2002 of two tourists in Queensland, attributed to the Irukandji syndrome. We review current knowledge of these envenoming syndromes, mechanisms of venom action and therapy, focusing on the deadly box jellyfish, Chironex fleckeri, and the array of jellyfish thought to cause the Irukandji syndrome. Current understanding of jellyfish venom activity is very limited, and many treatments are unproven and based on anecdote.

Worldwide media attention recently focused on Australia following the first two known human fatalities attributed to the Irukandji syndrome in Queensland in 2002.1 Jellyfish envenoming represents a major cost to northern Australian communities in terms of public health, leisure and tourism. Management of these syndromes depends on improved understanding of venom action and critical analysis of current therapy.

  • 1 Departments of Biochemistry and Emergency Medicine, University of Western Australia, Crawley, WA.
  • 2 Department of Emergency Medicine, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, Nedlands, WA.
  • 3 Department of Biochemistry, University of Western Australia, Crawley, WA.



P M B holds a Post Graduate Research Scholarship from the National Health and Medical Research Council and an Ad Hoc Scholarship through the Department of Medicine, University of Western Australia. Research was funded by a Raine Research Foundation Priming Grant awarded to J A W, who is an Australian Research Council Research Fellow.

Competing interests:

None identified.

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