Sea lice are attacking people on Gulf Coast beaches. There have been outbreaks along the Florida panhandle, but they’re not likely to stop there. Sea lice are also referred to as “beach lice” and are nearly impossible to see underneath the water, so they’re often very difficult to recognize before they become a problem. They tend to get stuck beneath swimsuits and cause irritating rashes called “seabather’s eruption.” There may be rashes with elevated skin with a reddish tint and some small blisters, says a report from Houston’s ABC13 KTRK. More severe reactions can lead to fever, chills, nausea and headache, similar to flu symptoms.
Experts recommend rubbing sand into the area or rubbing it with the edge of a credit card. Your first, natural response may be flushing the area with cold, soothing water, but that’s not advisable, according to the experts. Hot water is best. Sea lice are tiny, barely visible to the human eye, especially under water. The Florida Department of Health says they’re no bigger than a speck of ground pepper. They’re the larvae of adult jellyfish, not to be confused with the parasitic sea lice that typically affect farmed salmon and other saltwater fish. These sea lice, or beach lice, are nearly invisible jellyfish larvae. In addition to getting caught underneath swimsuits, they can get into folds and creases in the skin and can get caught up in hair, making the larvae sting. If lying on the beach or exercising causes pressure, stinging cells are released from the larvae and cause welts. Most of the time, says Palm Beach County Parks and Recreation, the itching doesn’t start until several hours after being in the water, but sometimes people can experience a prickling sensation while still in the water. The itching usually lasts about two to four days, but can last up to two weeks. The rash can be treated with hydrocortisone cream or an antihistamine. Colloidal oatmeal baths and calamine lotion can also help with the itchy, irritating symptoms that go along with the rash.
So how can you avoid something you can barely even see with the naked eye? It’s impossible to prevent seabather’s eruption entirely when swimming at the beach, but there are a few things that can help, says Science World Report. Avoiding areas with signs or purple flags warning about infestations is the first step, but beyond that, wearing waterproof creams such as zinc oxide or thick layers of Vaseline can help minimize the stings. Also, wearing as little clothing as possible in the water can help. Experts recommend changing out of bathing suits as soon as possible after swimming. Washing swimsuits thoroughly with hot water can help as well. Swimming naked can help, since the larvae only sting when they’re crushed or squished, but that may not be advisable in all locations.
Seabather’s eruption, or sea lice outbreaks, usually occur intermittently between March and August, with their peak times usually being from April through July. The outbreaks seem to be caused by shifts in South Florida’s currents, causing the highest number of cases in areas like Palm Beach Country and Broward County where the Gulf Stream moves closest to the shorelines. The tiny parasites tend to favor warmer waters, like the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. This year, ABC News warns, outbreaks are on the rise, particularly on beaches along the Gulf of Mexico. Some beaches are posting signs to warn swimmers of the danger during times of outbreaks. Some Florida counties will be hanging purple flags visible to guests when there is a presence of the marine pests. Biologists are saying they expect more sea lice heading for warmer waters, particularly along the Gulf Coast. As long as these sea lice are attacking people on Gulf Coast beaches, it’s advisable to take as many precautionary measures as possible.
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