Are friends or family pestering you to get off your beach chair and go in the water? Well, if you are hanging out on the coast of northwest Florida you may now have an excuse not to.
Yes, a swarm of stinging sea lice have invaded the shores around Pensacola Beach, leading authorities to post purple flags to warn about the irritating underwater creatures.
Dave Greenwood, director of public safety for the beach, told the Pensacola News Journal that the lice are tiny jellyfish larvae and jellyfish cells.
"It's just one of those things you have to deal with when you go into the Gulf of Mexico," he said. "You are a land animal and the Gulf is not our native environment."
According to AL.com in neighboring Alabama, which has so far not been affected by the pests, sea lice are typically found in the warm waters of the Caribbean and on the Gulf Coast between April and July. They sting when they become trapped between skin and a bathing suit and the bites can cause a red rash and small blisters, according to the Florida Department of Public Health.
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In some cases, the site reported, people can experience a severe reaction, including fever, chills, headaches and nausea, adding that symptoms typically appear four to six hours after leaving the water and can last as long as two weeks. Treatment typically includes antihistamine and medications to lessen the itching. The National Institutes of Health also recommends applying vinegar to the skin to prevent further bites, AL.com reported.
Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Public Health offered the following tips for avoiding sea lice:
- Pay attention to flags and avoid the water if sea lice are present and you are particularly susceptible to skin irritations
- Avoid wearing a T-shirt or one-piece bathing suit in the ocean to limit the surface area that could trap larvae.
- There is some evidence that use of a topical sunscreen or suntan lotion may actually protect skin from penetration by the lice.
- After exiting the water, change out of your bathing suit as soon as possible. After you remove your bathing suit, shower with warm water. Do not shower in a bathing suit that has been exposed to sea lice.
- Wash your bathing suit thoroughly with detergent and then use heat to dry it. Air drying isn't enough.