What Are Sea Lice? Florida Health Department Issues Warning To Beachgoers

Sea lice have invaded Florida's northwestern beaches and the Department of Health is warning beachgoers to be careful. These creatures are pretty small but they can leave you with a large, nasty rash, People Magazine reports.

"They aren't very intense, which is why we call them sea lice and not sea hornets or sea wasps," said David Greenwood, the director of public safety for Pensacola beaches in an interview with the Pensacola News Journal. "It's just one of those you have to deal with when you go into the Gulf of Mexico."

Sea lice aren't actually lice at all. They're jellyfish larvae, and just like their larger, full-grown counterparts, they have a sting. On its website, the Florida Department of Health advises that these organisms typically show up in bodies of saltwater between March and August. They are particularly prevalent in the Gulf of Mexico.

The rash often shows up as patches of itchy lesions but sea lice can cause some other health problems as well.

"Other symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, weakcills, muscle spasms, arthralgias, and a sense of malaise," the Florida Department of Health adds. "It is unknown whether some of these symptoms reflect the ingestion of infected seawater or are manifestations of a systemic immune response."

The rash can take up to a week to clear up, but the health department notes that they can return after the initial outbreak has disappeared.

You can treat the lesions by applying an antihistamine, like diphenhydramine, and a hydrocortisone cream to the affected area. If the symptoms reoccur after clearing up, they advise getting a shot of epinephrine or administering oral or intramuscular steroids. A 1.0 percent corticosteroid cream could also be helpful.

If you're dealing with a child that's been affected, the Florida Department of Health suggests that you apply calamine lotion as this can act as a visual placebo and induce a calming effect on the patient. Also, using both diphenhydramine and calamine (Caladryl) lotion can be toxic particularly in children, so it's better to not mix the two.

Lifeguards put up purple flags to indicate the presence of sea lice in the water. To avoid stings the department of health advises that beachgoers refrain from wearing T-shirts when they're in the water as the larvae can get trapped in the fabric. Female bathers are also better off wearing a bikini than a one-piece swimsuit as it means less fabric for the sea lice to get tangled in. Sunscreen and suntan lotion has also been shown to act as a shield against these harmful critters.

Bathing suits should also be washed with detergent after they're used and heat-dried. But sea lice have been known to sting even after they've been in a dryer. So, if you know that your suit has come into contact with these organisms, it's a good idea to just throw it out.