SANTA ROSA, FL (WCMH) – Purple flags are popping up all over the Florida panhandle as a nearly-invisible nuisance is causing a headache for beach-goers.
Sea lice are the larvae of jellyfish and other ocean stingers that find their way onto shore in the currents. These microscopic larvae contain the same stinging cells as the adult creatures. Therefore, they sting – not bite.
They are also virtually impossible to see underwater, making them difficult to track. They are known to get stuck underneath bathing suits and irritate the skin, causing a rash known as seabather’s eruption.
Rashes may include elevated skin with a reddish tint and some small blisters. Symptoms start several hours after being in the water and typically last 2-4 days, but the itchy rash can last as long as two weeks! Some people may have more severe reactions such as: headache, fever, and nausea.
Experts say sea lice appear particularly in areas with warmer climates, such as the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean.
Anyone in or near the affected areas with a raised purple flag is at risk. Parks and recreation officials say the best form of treatment is to rub the affected area with sand or the edge of a credit card and flush the skin with hot water. Bathing suits should also be thoroughly washed with detergent and heat dried.
Your natural reaction may be to flush the affected area with cold water, but don’t – hot water is the key, experts say. Benadryl and cortisone cream may be helpful.
The term “sea lice” originated during the 1950s to describe the jellyfish larvae. This popular term has persisted even since, despite there being an actual species of parasite known as sea lice that affect fish.