Sea lice: What you need to know before making beach plans

Sea lice: What you need to know before making beach plans

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Getting too close to microscopic jellyfish larvae could ruin an upcoming beach vacation this summer as the warning about sea lice continues to spread.

"I've heard of it. Never had it," said Waveland, MS, beach-goer Cathy Little. "It's kind of gross. I don't want to get anything that is going to irritate my skin."

Mississippi officials said they have had no confirmed cases of sea lice along the Mississippi Gulf Coast this year. A majority of the cases have happened along the coast of Florida and some beaches in Alabama.

"These are a little funny for people because they don't see them, and they often don't feel it until after they've been out of the water," Tulane Infectious Disease Specialist Susan McLellan said.

The warm Gulf water serves as a natural habitat for the thimble jellyfish, which is the species of jellyfish most often associated with sea lice, and experts say the fewer clothes someone wears in the water, the less likely sea lice will irritate the skin.

"The reason for that is less clothing in the water means less areas for these things to be trapped against the skin," McLellan said.

Once the unseen larvae get trapped against the body for an hour or longer, it irritates the skin because the jellyfish still carry a sting at that early stage in the development.

"You can rinse yourself off with fresh water once the bathing suit is off," McLellan said. "The problem with rinsing yourself off with freshwater while the bathing suit is on, is that contact with freshwater on an organism that likes to live in the sea makes its stingers release."

The more times a person's skin is exposed to jellyfish larvae, the more painful it can be, according to McLellan.

"People that have had more than one exposure may have a much more serious reaction which includes real hives even blisters and things like that. It can be quite uncomfortable and some people might even get a fever. It will resolve by itself but it's not really fun," McLellan said.

Sea lice is not deadly. McLellan said if you do get a rash from sea lice use topical creams, antihistamines and low potency steroid creams such as hydrocortizone to help reduce the itching.

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