New research from Australia indicates that applying vinegar to box jellyfish stings may not be the best option for first aid. In fact, the new study shows that vinegar may actually make the problem worse.

Box jellyfish are relatively common creatures and they can be found anywhere from the Pacific to the Mediterranean. While these cube shaped jellyfish are known for their nasty stings, venomous box jellyfish can only be found in the Indo-Pacific area. However, poisonous box jellyfish can be a problem in Australia and people get stung fairly often.

In the case of a box jellyfish sting, the Australian Resuscitation Council (ARC) and many Australian lifeguards recommend using vinegar to treat the stings. Immediate treatment is very important when it comes to box jellyfish stings and people have been known to die within a few minutes of getting stung.

"Our research findings raise concerns that vinegar has the potential to do harm when used as first aid to treat box jellyfish stings," said James Cook University (JCU) associate professor Jamie Seymour. Seymour has also been called the "Jelly Dude from Nemo Land" due to his extensive body of work on venomous jellyfish.

The researchers from the James Cook University and Cairns Hospital wanted to investigate the exact effect of vinegar on jellyfish stings. Jellyfish stings are caused by tiny, harpoon shaped cells called nematocysts. These explosive cells are responsible for injecting the jellyfish's venom into its intended target. Box jellyfish primarily store nematocysts on their tentacles. However, some nematocysts have been found in the bodies of box jellyfish. The researchers found that applying vinegar may actually increase the venom load by around 50 percent.

"Through our in-vitro experiments we discovered that vinegar promotes further discharge of venom from already discharged nematocysts. It may be time to reconsider first-aid options for tropical Australian jellyfish stings," said Dr. Mark Little, a clinical toxicologist from the Cairns Hospital.

In many countries including the US and Australia, applying vinegar is often the treatment of choice when it comes to box jellyfish stings. The new paper shows that the application of this type of first aid should be studied further. However, Australian lifeguards say that they will continue to use vinegar until the ARC changes its official guidelines.

"Our research shows this may not be the best course of action and it's now for the ARC to consider whether its protocol should be changed," said Seymour. "We would expect the ARC to consider this to see if the protocols need to be modified."

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