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Quote Unquote: The Woman Who Created “Sting No More” After a Jellyfish Sting

A quick swim at Kaimana Beach in July 1997 changed the career path of Angel Yanagihara and how we look at box jellyfish. She was stung on her neck, arms and legs, enough to lose consciousness. Yanagihara decided to become a biochemist at UH Mānoa and research these aquatic stingers, which swarm on O‘ahu’s south-facing shores eight to 10 days after the full moon. Her extensive work resulted in the development of a revolutionary topical treatment called Sting No More that can be applied to treat the pain, swelling and redness caused by a sting.


Angel Yanagihara.

Photo: David Croxford

After three agonizing days of horrible pain, which no medication or cream seemed to help, I wanted to know more about box jellyfish and especially about their horrific venom. I did a basic literature search and was surprised that almost nothing was known.


I have been amazed to learn what a major public health issue box jellyfish stings are in Hawai‘i. Up to 1,000 ambulance calls have been attributed to box jellies in a single month.


The scientific and medical literature is clear: Ice packs should never be used for box jellyfish stings. Unfortunately, ice packs are easy for lifeguards and first responders to keep on hand, and they’re actually being used in Honolulu, despite the fact that they’re not useful.


Hot-water immersion is the best first-aid approach. While vinegar inactivates tentacle stinging cells, making it safe to remove the tentacles from the sting site, it does nothing to remove or reverse the effects of the venom already injected into the body. Urine is considered a do-no-harm approach as it’s mildly acidic and warm, but it actually does cause some additional cnidae (stinging cells) discharge.


My patent-pending Sting No More formulation is now being made in a topical form for Special Operations combat divers who routinely encounter both box jellyfish and Portuguese man-of-war.


Box jellyfish venom contains hole-punching or pore-forming toxins structurally similar to the one produced by anthrax. And the sting is not like a bee sting; the amount of cellular rupture is more than 10,000 times that of a bee sting.


Since 1997, my lab members and I have been on the beach from 2 to 6 a.m. during jellyfish influx days. This data set has become the oldest continual data set in the world related to box jellyfish and has allowed us to understand triggers and discover critical aspects of the box jellyfish life cycle.


I was born in Anchorage, Alaska. We moved every few years since my father was an Air Force officer, but my first memories are of camping, fishing, boating and enjoying the snowy winters. I would swim in those waters. I’m bulletproof!


I’m definitely a water person, so any chance to get out in the ocean is always a bonus, even if it means being separated from a vessel at 3 a.m., miles offshore.


I love to knit and sew. I’ve sewn all of my daughters’ prom dresses and, when my kids were young, I made all of their clothes. It just calms me down. I’m kind
of high-strung.


Both the Sting No More spray and cream can be purchased at Breeze Hawai‘i, the Hanauma Bay gift shop, ElixRx Pharmacy, Aaron’s Dive Shop and online at stingnomore.com.


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Honolulu Magazine September 2020
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