- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 27, 2003

VIRGINIA BEACH (AP) — Jonathan Cristinziano, a 7-year-old with a bucket and a net, headed to the shores of the Chesapeake Bay. He had never felt the sting of a jellyfish.

“I’ve seen them, but I don’t worry about them,” he said. “I guess I’ve just been lucky.”

But his luck ran out this summer. There has been an increase in jellyfish stings at the oceanfront during the past couple weeks.

Experts said the jellies live in the ocean year-round. The increase comes because of the season’s warm weather and warmer waters, which attract jellyfish and beach visitors.

“Here, we’re fortunate because the stings are most likely not life-threatening, but some people can have really bad reactions,” said Gary Felch, a lieutenant with Virginia Beach Lifesaving Services, which is affiliated with Virginia Beach Emergency Medical Services.

“If they have an allergic reaction, it becomes more serious,” he said. “They could possibly go into anaphylactic shock and have trouble breathing.”

Beth Firchau, a fish curator at the Virginia Marine Science Museum, said beachgoers can judge how much they’ll react to a jelly sting with how they react to mosquito bites and bee stings.

“The severity of a sting really depends on an individual,” she said. “If you have a history of getting irritated by bug bites and the like, then you should be taking extra precautions to avoid jellies.”

In the Hampton Roads area, two types of jellies — the sea nettle and the moon jelly — are most common.

Sea nettles are most likely what stung Jonathan on his ankle while he was swimming near his home in Virginia Beach.

Long, white, stinging tentacles hang from sea nettles’ dome-shapes, which can be the size of a man’s fist. These jellies’ stings can be more painful than other types.

Moon jellies, which are about the size of a dinner plate, have been causing more stings at the oceanfront this summer.

Though they’re larger than sea nettles, a flower pattern on the domes of moon jellies makes them easier to spot.

In creeks and smaller waterways, comb jellies can also be found, but they are less dangerous and less common than the other types.

As for fatal jellies such as sea wasps and the Portuguese man-of-war, they come to the Virginia coast only on a strong wind, such as hurricane-force gusts and are extremely rare in local waters.

Just in case, Virginia Beach lifeguards take precautions when dealing with jellyfish-sting victims.

“Usually the guard will check to see if the person is having trouble breathing, then check for welts of similar marks,” Mr. Felch said. “Really, for the pain, the best remedy is a home remedy — meat tenderizer and water work really well combined. Also, anti-itch creams … can help alleviate the irritation.”

Jonathan’s mother, Mary Beth, came to the beach recently with meat tenderizer tucked away in her bag. Her son was busy trying to capture a jelly of his own.

“He’s not afraid of much of anything,” she said. “That’s why I have to come prepared.”

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