Man-O-War Stings Man on Sand Key Beach

by BeachHunter on May 10, 2009

Photo of a man-o-war jelly that stung a man on Sand Key beach. Photo by Brian Ferraiolo.

Photo of a man-o-war jelly that stung a man on Sand Key beach. Photo by Brian Ferraiolo.

By David McRee of BlogTheBeach.com

It’s not often we see Portuguese Man-of-War jellies (Physalia) on the lower Gulf coast of Florida, but I’ve had several photos sent to me in the last few weeks of Physalia found on Siesta Key Beach and Anna Maria Island.

Today, Brian Ferraiolo sent these two photos of a Physalia that stung a man rather severely. I asked Brian if he would share more information about his experience with helping this man. Here is what he wrote:

I knew this was a Man of War and a couple was on vacation with their child and I think the man that was stung was the father-in-law . I told them that this is not good and that he needed medical attention straight away. He had just gotten stung when I came upon them as I was walking back to my car. Called 911 strait away .  I told his wife how dangerous they are and kept others away from it. His wife managed to find a crate to put over it  so that the authorities/medics could see it and keep others away form it.  The medics came and took the gentleman  off to hospital.

Brian’s quick action in recognizing the danger of a severe Physalia sting and his quick action in getting medical help no doubt will help the victim recover more quickly, and perhaps averted more serious reactions that sometimes arise from Physalia stings. Some people are more sensitive to the venom than others. We hope the victim will recover quickly and return to enjoy the beach.

Thanks Brian, for sharing your photos and your experience.

For those who may not know where Sand Key is, it’s just south of Clearwater Beach. I’m assuming that Brian and the victim were at or near Sand Key Park, since that is really the only public beach access in that area. Here is a link to a Google Map locating Sand Key Park.

There are several good jellyfish products available. One is a lotion that prevents jellyfish stings, and the other is to use after being stung by a jellyfish. The second product is vinegar-based and may not be effective on Man-O-War stings. Heat may be the most effective treatment for a Physalia sting.  I created a short video where I talk about SafeSea lotion, and StingMate.

Here is a bit more information about Stingmate and treating Physalia stings.

Physalia on the beach after stinging a beach visitor. Photo by Brian Ferraiolo.

Physalia on the beach after stinging a beach visitor. Photo by Brian Ferraiolo.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Rob Nixon May 11, 2009 at 8:07 am

Wow, we get Man-O-Wars a lot over here on the South Texas Gulf Coast. So much so that I hardly notice when I get stung. OK, so that may be an exaggeration but I don’t leave the water anymore.

The frequency is enough that I do have friends that I surf with that carry injections because of their allergic reactions to venomous insects and Man-O-Wars which are not classified as jellies. They are actually a colony of four individual organisms.

By the way, vinegar based products do take the sting out but nothing is as effective as time.

2 beachhunter May 11, 2009 at 9:12 am

Thanks for chiming in Rob. Glad to hear that vinegar works for you. Perhaps you’ve built up a resistance as well? Every year I get dozens of emails from folks, usually from coastal Alabama and northwest Florida, who have been stung by a Physalia. They send photos of terrible raised welts that often itch for weeks after the initial pain goes away.

You are of course correct when you say that Physalia is not a jellyfish, but a symbiotic colony of organisms referred to as a siphonophore. Another colonial hydrozoa often referred to as a “jellyfish” are the blue buttons (Porpita porpita) and the By-the-wind sailor (Vellela vellela). These are chondrophores. They are really beautiful but we hardly ever see them down here on the Florida Gulf coast peninsula.

We’ve had an unusually windy winter and spring, so I’ve gotten more reports than usual of beached “jellies.”

3 laura jean 2 May 19, 2009 at 12:24 pm

heading to clearwater with the family next week. thanks for the information.

4 Becky Mirando August 2, 2009 at 1:29 pm

I was stung 7/27 by something in the water at Flagler Beach. It hurt so bad and was increasing by the micro-second! I was holding my 3 year old and on the shore side of a sandbar. I felt the pain on my leg and it felt like it was everywhere around me so I tossed my 3 yr old then immediately grabbed him back up in fear that he would get stung. (He thought this was a cool game.) I reached down with my left arm and pushed whatever it was away with the top part of my left arm near the wrist. I never saw it and the pain subsided after a few hours. It looked so much better until I woke up this morning (ALMOST A WEEK LATER) and it’s swollen more than it ever was and ITCHING like CRAZY!!! Cortizone didn’t help at all. I just took 2 Benadryl. I have to go back to work tomorrow. Areas on my left leg & left arm that had completely gone away are back worse than right after it happened. Any advise?

5 beachhunter August 2, 2009 at 9:24 pm

I’d say you’re doing the right thing with the Benadryl. Have you tried putting ice on it or heat? Some people feel better with ice, and others prefer heat. Some ibuprofen would be a good idea too. If it keeps up, see a doctor, who might be able to give you something stronger. I often have people tell me that after a few days or even after 2 weeks when they think their jellyfish sting is all better, it flares up again.

6 Becky Mirando August 7, 2009 at 9:42 pm

Boy it sure got worse before it got better! I think it’s on the mend now. I went to the doctor 8/3 and she put me on steroids, antibiotics & 2 different antihistamines. I also had to soak the stings with vinegar and use Caladryl and aloe. Different things work at different times. Each day it goes down a little. Starting to peel.. Check it out at http://mirandomania.blogspot.com/2009/08/looks-feels-little-better-today.html

7 beachhunter August 7, 2009 at 11:13 pm

That does look painful Becky. I’m glad you went to the doctor for treatment. Everyone reacts differently to jellyfish venom and you sure had a strong reaction. Thanks for sharing that info with us.

8 Tiffany August 10, 2009 at 2:38 pm

We were recently on a family vacation in Gulf Shores Alabama. My 10 year old was stung by what I think was a manowar. The pain was terrible. It wrapped around his waist with whelps. Now, 6 days later it looks like burned or scabbed over skin. Is this normal?

9 beachhunter August 10, 2009 at 3:16 pm

Yes, Tiffany, that sounds fairly normal. Each person reacts a bit differently to jellyfish stings and physical symptoms like skin lesions vary a lot from person to person. Some people also experience delayed skin eruptions that can occur two weeks or more after the original sting appears to have healed. If you are concerned, why not have your child’s pediatrician have a look at it?

10 Olivia August 21, 2009 at 9:09 am

I got stung yesterday by one, and went to the doctor, but at the time they all thought it was a jellyfish sting, but once I left we looked it up on the internet (the sting on my arm changed the way it looked then it did at the hospital) and we found out that they never should of put vinegar on it, because the vinegar bursts other tentacles from the manowar and continues to inject venom. I was telling them the vinegar was making it worse, but they never thought of it as a manowar. but my sting looks really strange it’s purple where the stingers hit me. it looks like my blood went down to where the stingers hit me, and it’s very tender.

11 beachhunter August 21, 2009 at 12:01 pm

Sorry you got stung Olivia. Where were you? In Florida? On Sand Key? The general belief is that vinegar may not be as effective on Man-of-War stings as it is on other jellyfish stings, as you noted. It may make it worse, which you can testify to. The most important thing seems to be to get the tentacles off as quickly as possible by rinsing with salt water and by scraping them off with a credit card or other edged object. Some have suggested picking them off with your fingertips, which apparently are not as sensitive to the sting. Others suggest grabbing a handful of sand and using that to scrape off the tentacles. Using fresh water to rinse is not a good idea, since the change in salinity makes the remaining tentacles sting more.

Afterwards, either heat or cold may help. Try both. Don’t hesitate to see your doctor right away if you are not feeling well or if your continue to be uncomfortable.

12 Angela November 23, 2010 at 10:39 pm

I believe I got stung yesterday but I’m not sure. There were signs saying that they had manowars. I didn’t even know I got stung. I thought it was a salt burn (my skin is sensitive to salt water) but normally they clear up after I get out of the water. It burned for a few hours and certain spots were raised on my skin (sort of like scratches) now there is just a few bumps and a scratch around my kneecap. I’m guessing the scratch is were I got stung (if I did) one of the employees at the resort I was staying at said that it could have been a sting because of the way it had spread down my leg. He put some stuff on it too keep it from swelling up later. I just noticed on the scratch it looked like it was bleeding (idk if it was blood or not) it burned when I cleaned it off……….should I do anything or just leave it??

13 beachhunter November 23, 2010 at 11:11 pm

Angela, usually vinegar is the best thing to put on the sting right away. It’s probably kind of late to do that now, but you could give it a try. For a man-of-war, applying heat (113 degrees) for 15 or 20 minutes helps. Hydrocortisone cream may also help the itching/burning. It should be fine. Could have been one of several types of jellyfish–sea nettle, lions mane, man of war…

Where did this happen?

14 Anthony Hartman June 24, 2011 at 12:10 am

I was stung in St. Augustine by a Man-o-war. The pain was undescribable and kept stinging untill a Lifeguard poured on rubbing alcohol and removed tentacles with a towel. 20 minutes later I had difficulty breathing and was taken to the hospital. I had swelling and purple welts for weeks.

15 beachhunter June 24, 2011 at 8:21 pm

Anthony, thanks for sharing your story. Sounds like a scary experience. A large man of war can be a dangerous beast. I’m a bit surprised to hear that they put rubbing alcohol on the sting. Vinegar is the currently accepted treatment for jellyfish stings, including man of war. The application of heat–113 degrees for 15 or 20 minutes–has also been demonstrated as effective in relieving the pain. The swelling and purple welts persisting for weeks is typical for MOW stings, and I don’t think the breathing problems are all that uncommon.

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