Sea lice aren’t lice, but they do sting

Jellyfish larvae appear in the water at certain times of the year

Bites can usually be treated with an itch cream and/or cortisone (Southside Daily photo/Courtesy of the Florida Department of Health)

VIRGINIA BEACH — Sea lice?

Yea, that’s a thing. A thing some swimmers along the Virginia Beach shoreline have recently found out about first-hand.

They’re not actually lice (you stop scratching your head now), but the tiny larvae of jellyfish (thimble jellyfish) that periodically appear in the warm waters of the Atlantic Coast. This year there have been reports from as far north as New Jersey on down to Florida – on both the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.

When they encounter swimmers and get wedged between the fabric of swimsuits and the skin, the larvae sting.

However, while a few swimmers have encountered the sea lice, the vast majority haven’t.

“We have had few if any complaints this summer,” said Thomas Gill, chief of the Virginia Beach Lifesaving Service. “It has been a non-factor for us.”

The sting can hurt a bit and it’s certainly irritating, but for the most part there’s no danger involved. Some people will develop a rash, which can usually be treated with cortisone and/or an oral antihistamine for the itching, but some people may end up with a headache, fever, nausea, or infected blisters (from scratching).

Sometimes the stings and rash are referred to as Sea Bathers Eruption. The prevalence of the jellyfish larvae/sea lice can happen anytime between March and August – wherever the ocean currents carry them. Some swimmers may feel the stinging while in the water, although some may not notice them until hours later.

Less is more actually

Since the sea lice sting when they get between the skin and clothing or a swim suit, less fabric is better. Don’t wear a t-shirt into the water if you think sea lice are present (use sunscreen for protection instead, against both the sun and the sea lice).

Some bad news: One-piece swimsuits on women provide more covered areas for the stinging critters.

The good news is that the jellyfish larvae wash right off (and sometimes simply wipe off, too) in a fresh water shower. Swimsuits should be removed, washed, then dried on high heat.

The only way to actually avoid them (if they’re in the water) is to stay out of the water.

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