Content provided by Tia Ghose, LiveScience
The fearsome box jellyfish packs venom that is among the deadliest in the world, but a new treatment may take the sting out of its powerful poison, according to a new study.
The study researchers found that a zinc-based compound prevented death in mice injected with box-jellyfish venom. The compound - zinc gluconate, a nutritional supplement - seems to work by preventing certain ions (charged particles) that keep the heart beating from leaking out of blood vessels.
If follow-up studies confirm the benefits in larger animals, the compound could one day be used to prevent people from dying of jellyfish stings.
Anecdotal evidence looks promising: A topical version of the compound was used to reduce the pain and swelling of a jellyfish sting received by Diana Nyad in August during her attempt to swim the 103 miles (166 kilometers) between Florida and Cuba.
Snakes, insects, fish and even lizards use venom to defend themselves or take down prey, but the sting of the Australian box jellyfish (Chironex fleckeri) may be the most deadly: A single creature carries enough venom in its tentacles to kill 60 people.
"These are the most venomous animals in the world based upon fatalities over the last 30 years," said study author Angel Yanagihara, a biochemist at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
float in the waters from Australia all the way to Vietnam. The ethereal creatures can sport 6.5-foot (2-meter)-long, ribbonlike tentacles that often attach to swimmers or scuba divers and inject venom through hundreds of thousands of microscopic, harpoonlike barbs, Yanagihara said. (Gallery: Amazing Photos of Jellyfish)
"All that venom then seeps into the bloodstream. With each beat of your heart it's being pumped around your circulatory system," she said.
The deadly stings can kill quickly by causing cardiac arrest. Until now, doctors had no effective treatments to counteract the venom.
Instead, they would treat a cascade of symptoms, such as high or low blood pressure, and hope for the best, she said.
"It's usually a race against time where the clinician is treating symptoms as they crop up," Yanagihara told LiveScience.