Letters to the Editor

Policy to treat jellyfish stings 

Yesterday at StoneSteps, my daughter was stung by a jellyfish. She was immediately panicked and stung by sharp pains. An adult there, who had also been stung, said that it was “like being stabbed by a knife.”

The lifeguard (young woman, sorry forgot name) very competently treated Sasha by spraying with vinegar at the sting. The effect was dramatic and immediate, and Sasha’s pain went away quickly. If Sasha had not had this treatment, it would have taken me 20 to 30 minutes to get her home, and then I would not have known what to do.

However, she (the lifeguard) said that yesterday was the last day, that as of today, lifeguards are no longer allowed to treat jellyfish stings with vinegar.

I followed up with a call to Larry Giles, chief lifeguard for the city of Encinitas. He told me that the decision came from San Diego County EMS, and he said that they were to treat with seawater or warm water in the future. Warm water is not available at most lifeguard stations, and is largely ineffective anyway. Seawater, of course, has no effect at all. A search of the Internet makes clear that the best effective treatment is vinegar for our local jellyfish.

I then called San Diego County EMS and spoke to Susan Smith. She told me that the policy was a result of deliberations of the Base Physicians Committee, and said it was based on “evidenced based studies,” and the policy of the American Heart Association.

However, I can find no “evidenced based study” which discourages treatment with vinegar, and the American Heart Association webpage expressly says: “To inactivate venom load and prevent further envenomation, jellyfish stings should be liberally washed with vinegar (4 percent to 6 percent acetic acid solution) as soon as possible for at least 30 seconds.”

In Australia, where jellys are really dangerous, vinegar is routinely left at beaches for treatment of stings.

Thus, it is very hard to see how the Committee could come up with such a policy. Furthermore, I don’t understand why our local lifeguards have to submit to this policy, and I don’t understand why Larry Giles isn’t a little more curious, and resistant to this policy. It is his duty to keep the public and our kids’ safe at the beach. Neither Lifeguard Giles nor Nurse Smith would return my calls.

This policy ought to be changed, and until it is, we ought to take vinegar with us to the beach.

Mark Bergseid





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