Beware of sea lice on your next trip to the beach

By Crystal Chen - Assignment editor/reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Planning a weekend trip to the beach? So are pesky critters who are out to take a bite out of your fun.

Lifeguards in Northwest Florida as well as local doctors say it’s the season for sea lice and they’re the travel buddies you do not want to tag along. 

What are they?

Sea lice will leave you with red itchy bumps after a dip in our warm waters--especially during the summer months. Lifeguards in the panhandle issued a warning on Tuesday about the marine life.

Experts at Minute Clinic say the pests are microscopic jellyfish larva which are hard to see since they're the size of a tiny speck of pepper. 

Once they get caught in your bathing suit, they can sting repeatedly while you're in the water. You'll know within a few hours if you've fallen victim to their sting.

“It is not unusual to see evidence of 200 or more stings under a person's bathing suit,” said the Florida Department of Health. The department adds that some people will have difficulty sleeping because of the intense itching. The rash usually resolves within a week.

How to treat the itch

The best thing to do if you notice red itchy bumps from sea lice is to grab a bottle of vinegar, according to Minute Clinic.

“You can use some gauze, soak the gauze pad in some vinegar and wash the site with it or you can use a baking soda paste,” said Jennifer Hickman, a family nurse practitioner at Minute Clinic.

The important thing to remember is never mix vinegar and baking soda together. It can cause a chemical reaction that's harmful to your skin. 

How to avoid Sea Lice

To lower your risk of getting stung, the Florida Department of Health recommends showering right after swimming in the ocean.

"Swimmers need to change out of their bathing suits as soon as possible after exiting from the water. Most lesions have occurred from contact with contaminated swimwear. If  showers are in a public area, it is suggested that people bring a second suit to the beach. Showering with fresh water while still wearing a contaminated bathing suit could cause discharge of nematocysts trapped in the fabric of the suit," advises the health department.

Also, avoid wearing t-shirts in the water.

“The surface area of a bathing suit may increase the area over which stings can occur,” reports the department of health.

More information on Sea Lice, also known as "Swimmer's Itch" can be found in this guide from the Florida Department of Health's website.

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