Management of Irukandji syndrome in northern Australia

Barnett, F.I., Durrheim, D.M., Speare, R., and Muller, R. (2005) Management of Irukandji syndrome in northern Australia. Rural and Remote Health, 5 (3). 1-10.

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Abstract

Introduction: Irukandji syndrome, a potentially life-threatening condition that follows the sting of small carybdeid jellyfish, occurs along the northern Australian coastline from Broome, Western Australia in the west to Rockhampton, Queensland in the east. Much of this area is classified rural or remote. Because correct patient management is essential to avoid unnecessary fatality, and stings are relatively uncommon in any specific location, it was considered important to document current approaches to Irukandji syndrome management throughout coastal northern Australia, comparing urban and more rural health facilities, and to assess the availability of management guidelines for health staff.

Methods: A telephone survey of the clinicians responsible for Irukandji syndrome patient management at 34 coastal northern Australian health facilities that might encounter this patient presentation was conducted during November and December 2003. Healthcare providers responsible for Irukandji syndrome management on the day of survey were interviewed using a structured, standardized questionnaire, which included a description of a hypothetical patient with Irukandji syndrome. This was used to stimulate a spontaneous description of the usual response of the particular health facility to such a patient presentation. Additional vignettes were used to investigate further specific aspects of patient management, including first aid, and pain and blood pressure management. Respondents were also asked about the existence of Irukandji treatment guidelines at their facility.

Results: All 34 facilities contacted agreed to participate. Five health facilities were in urban centres with a population of 50 000 or greater, four were within 50 km of such centres, 20 were more remote and five facilities were on islands. Basic clinical monitoring (blood pressure, pulse, respiratory rate and oxygen saturation) was generally adequately practised. Topical application of vinegar as a first aid measure was described by 79% of respondents, with spontaneous mention of vinegar significantly associated with increasing remoteness (p = 0.023). Other sting site management was variable, with uncertainty about the use of pressure immobilisation bandaging. Intravenous opiate analgesia was administered at 91% of facilities, and magnesium sulphate, a treatment that is still being evaluated for its role in Irukandji syndrome-related pain and hypertension, was mentioned by 12% of respondents for pain relief. Twelve different pharmacological treatments were used for syndrome-associated hypertension, with magnesium sulphate being mentioned by 21% of respondents. Of the 22 facilities with guidelines, 14 used either the Primary Clinical Care Manual or the Central Australian Rural Practitioners Association Standard Treatment Manual. The remaining guidelines were independently produced protocols. The availability of guidelines was associated with appropriate use of intravenous opiate for adequate pain relief (p = 0.037). Although all urban health centres and 75% of health facilities <50 km away had guidelines, only 56% of more remote or island facilities reported the availability of guidelines.

Conclusions: Although monitoring and pain management of patients with Irukandji syndrome were generally appropriate, a variety of inappropriate first aid and hypertension management approaches were found. In general, appropriate practice was associated with the presence of guidelines but, unfortunately, guidelines were less often present in remote health facilities. This is particularly important because the majority of respondents who reported no experience of managing Irukandji syndrome were located in more remote settings. There is a need for uniform, evidence-based guidelines, and mechanisms for effective dissemination of these guidelines with training for all health staff who may be required to manage Irukandji syndrome, particularly in remote areas of northern Australia.

Item ID: 7107
Item Type: Article (Refereed Research - C1)
Keywords: Australia; envenoming; health workforce; Irukandji; jelly fish
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ISSN: 1445-6354
Date Deposited: 23 Mar 2010 04:03
FoR Codes: 11 MEDICAL AND HEALTH SCIENCES > 1117 Public Health and Health Services > 111716 Preventive Medicine @ 100%
SEO Codes: 92 HEALTH > 9204 Public Health (excl. Specific Population Health) > 920405 Environmental Health @ 100%
Citation Count from Scopus Scopus 8
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