There’s no doubt that sunny beach days are some of the most welcome and fun days of summer — just about anyone’s mood can benefit from a lovely romp in the sand and surf. But according to BuzzFeed, health authorities reported a sea lice infestation at Pensacola Beach in Northwest Florida on Tuesday, and it’s putting a major damper on many a beach-goers day. Florida health authorities are now warning folks to watch out for the tiny stinging creatures, as they cause an intense red, itchy, and inflamed rash on the skin.
According to a report from the Florida Health Department, sea lice, also called “seabather’s eruption” or “swimmer’s itch” have been infiltrating Florida waters along the southern Atlantic coastline for the past 11 years. They're generally active during the months of March through August. Contrary to what you might think, sea lice aren't actually little insects, like lice-lice, but instead the larvae of the thimble jellyfish, according to National Geographic.
Buzzfeed further reports that friction tends to cause the tiny larvae to sting, which is why rashes are typically found on parts of the body covered by swimming caps or bathing suits, or on areas that get pressed against boogie boards or surfboards. CNBC notes that sea lice stings cause red welts and small blisters, and in severe cases, symptoms can include flu-like symptoms like headaches, nausea, chills, and fever. BuzzFeed also notes that severe sea lice reactions can cause muscle spasms and vomiting. If a severe reaction is present, or if children experience these symptoms, definitely get to the doctor right away.
CBS News reports that reactions from sea lice typically show up within four to 24 hours after exposure, though some people report a slight stinging sensation while bathing in infested waters. CBS further notes that since sea lice get trapped under bathing suits and t shirts, lying on the beach or sitting around in wet suits and clothes can cause more severe reactions. Treatments for sea lice-induced rashes include antihistamines and over-the-counter medications like calamine lotion or hydrocortisone creams. The Florida Department of Health recommends wearing bikinis over one-piece swimsuits, and avoiding wearing t-shirts in the water as these up the risk of more severe reactions. Other recommendations include avoiding sitting around or lying out in wet suits and clothes — that includes not sitting in damp clothes during the car ride home, thorough washing of all clothing exposed to ocean water, and drying those items on high heat. The health department also recommends immediately showering after swimming, and avoiding the ocean altogether if you have a history of severe sea lice reactions.
BuzzFeed reports that sea lice are “about the size of a pinhead and float on the surface of ocean waters.” Since the tiny critters are virtually invisible to the naked eye, they can be super tough to spot as you’re froklicking in the surf. Jellyfish larvae thrive in warm, salty waters, and the health department stresses that if flags or warnings are present on any beaches you visit, it’s definitely a good idea to avoid the water. CNBC notes that there is some evidence that sunscreen may also help protect against sea lice stings as they have a harder time penetrating the skin through that layer of lotion. The National Institutes of Health also recommend applying vinegar to the skin to help prevent bites, according to CNBC. That said, it’s still not a good idea to swim in infested waters.
While sea lice won’t stick to your body once you’re out of the water, remember that they can get trapped under clothing — so change out of those wet clothes stat, shower right away after swimming, and do see your doctor if you’re experiencing a severe reaction.