FSC Dive Section & Fremantle Sea Rescue: Blue ringed octopus, Sea Snake and cone shell poisoning

Recent reports of encounters with blue-ringed octopuses prompted Fremantle Sea Rescue to produce a protocol for dealing with these potentially fatal bites.

Last week whilst retrieving a racing mark, a crew of FSC bosuns and divers aboard Success pulled up an old float that was covered with these venomous creatures, so be aware this is a very real and present danger.

Immediate first aid is required and so the following advice to members is supplied adapted from Australian Resuscitation Guidelines (9.4.6) October 2019, courtesy of Fremantle Sea Rescue.

 

Introduction

Blue ringed octopuses inhabit all Australian coastal waters and may be found in tidal ponds estuaries and crayfish pots. If handled these small animals may inflict a potentially fatal bite injecting venom stored in salivary glands.

Many species of cone shell are found in tropical and temperate waters. They may fire a dart-like barb to deliver venom when handled. Sea snakes may be encountered on the surface or at depth, more frequently in warmer waters.

Although different, venoms from these creatures can cause paralysis and death from respiratory failure within 30 minutes. This can be treated with basic life support.

 

Recognition

  • Symptoms and signs may include:

  • A painless bite: a spot of blood visible.

  • Numbness of lips and tongue, impaired swallow and vision, slurred speech.

  • The progressive weakness of muscles of respiration leading to inadequate or cessation of breathing.

 

Management

  • Call 000 or local VMR via VHF Ch 16 or 27 Mhz Ch 88.

  • Keep the victim at rest, reassured and under constant observation, recovery position if vomiting, binding firmly the arm or leg to groin/armpit then splint limb.

  • Use the Pressure Bandage Immobilisation technique

  • Transport the victim to a medical facility as soon as possible, preferably by ambulance.

  • If the victim is unresponsive and not breathing normally, support respiration with mouth to mouth breathing or self-inflating resuscitation bag. Supplementary oxygen alone is not sufficient.

 

Note: Despite being unable to move the victim may be able to hear spoken comments.

 

Rationale

Following poisoning by these creatures, prompt application of the Pressure Bandage Immobilisation Technique will trap most of the venom at the bike site. When absorbed, the venoms cause muscle paralysis leading to breathing failure without direct effects on the heart. This means that the responder MUST breathe for the patient.

Paralysis may be long-lasting bracket hours) and cardiopulmonary resuscitation must be continued until the patient is in the care of a health professional. Secondary cardiac arrest may occur from asphyxia if breathing support is not effectively maintained.

With early and vigorous support the victim can make a complete recovery.

 

Thanks Andrew Brockis, Fremantle Sea Rescue Crew for this article.

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