Tragedy has struck a family while on vacation in Caramoan recently. A 7-year-old girl passed away shortly after being stung by a jellyfish in the shallow waters of a beach in Sabitang Laya island.
Beaches are abundant in the Philippines, and the country is well-known for them. However, there seems to be a severe lack in first aid facilities, tour guide training, and information dissemination as regards to how dangerous the waters can be if you are a tourist exploring the islands.
As reported by ABS-CBN News, Filipino-Italian Gaia Trimarchi and her family were on the last stop of an island-hopping tour when she was stung by a jellyfish while collecting seashells. “Doon lang siya sa mababaw na parte na hanggang bewang lang niya kaya nagulat kami nung biglang sumigaw ng, ‘Ouch! Ouch!,’” said Manette Trimarchi, Gaia’s mother. Her daughter is also an adept swimmer, even winning competition medals.
Gaia had been stung by a box jellyfish, the boatmen accompanying the family told Manette. “Nakita ko na lang yung hita niya kulay violet na. May mga tusok na pilit niyang tinatanggal to the point na pati sa kamay niya meron na,” said the mom. “Wala silang dalang first aid. Sinisi pa kami bakit daw wala kaming baong suka na pambuhos sa sting ng jellyfish.”
Because they were away from the main island, it took the family a total of 40 minutes by boat and by land to reach a hospital. Gaia was pronounced dead on arrival.
Says Manette, “There were no warning signages. Our boatmen did not tell us about it. Hindi naman kami taga-doon, turista kami. Paano naman namin malalaman na meron palang nakakamatay doon?”
Box jellyfish, encompassing a range of 50 species, are sophisticated and dangerous sea creatures. “Their venom is considered to be among the most deadly in the world, containing toxins that attack the heart, nervous system, and skin cells,” according to the National Geographic. “Human victims have been known to go into shock and drown, or die of heart failure before even reaching shore.” A person could die within minutes of being stung.
They can grow up to 10 feet and have up to 15 tentacles that are each equipped with 5,000 stinging cells. Box jellyfish are particularly known to be found in the warm coastal waters of Australia and the Philippines, says the National Science Foundation. Moreover, they’re considered highly advanced among jellyfish as they can jet through the water instead of simply drifting when swimming.
“Sabihan nila 'yung mga tao o maglagay sila ng notice doon na 'This place is dangerous.' Maglagay sila sa kada bangka ng first aid. Namatay anak ko na buhat ko. Ayaw na namin na maulit pa ito sa ibang bata, sa ibang magulang. Sana maging aral,” says Manette.
First aid guidelines for a jellyfish sting is “to liberally wash the area with vinegar as soon as possible for at least 30 seconds,” as per recommendations from Red Cross, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Heart Association. “If vinegar is not available, a baking soda slurry may be used instead.” Seek medical attention immediately.
“If you’re helping someone who is stung, help them remove the tentacles and pay close attention to their breathing, performing CPR if necessary,” says Discover. If the victim survives the first 5 to 10 minutes, the survival rate increases.
It is always best to take precautions. When on vacation, bring a first aid kit (containing medicine, antiseptic, vinegar, an instant ice pack, among others) with you. Learn basic CPR. Always insist that every member of the family wears a life vest when on board a boat. Read about the place you’re headed to and be informed of the possible dangers your family will be exposed to, such as diseases and dangerous animals.