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Sea lice reported along Florida beaches: What to know

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A pesky marine creature has showed up on some Florida beaches.

Pensacola is currently flying purple flags, indicating the presence of potentially dangerous marine life, after reports of sea lice in the water. The lice haven’t been reported in other Gulf Coast beaches; Panama City, Destin and Gulf Shores are all flying yellow flags, indicating the presence of potentially dangerous surf but no dangerous marine animals.

Sea lice actually aren’t lice at all – they are miniature jellyfish larvae. The marine pests are typically found in the warm waters of the Caribbean and on the Florida Gulf Coast between April and July. Sea lice 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.

In some cases, people can experience a severe reaction, including fever, chills, headaches and nausea.

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 Institute of Health also recommends applying vinegar to the skin to prevent further bites.

Avoiding sea lice

The Florida Department of Public Health has some 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.

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. Showering with fresh water while still wearing a contaminated bathing suit could case a discharge of nematocysts trapped in the fabric of the suit.

Wash your bathing suit thoroughly with detergent and then use heat to dry it. Air drying isn’t enough – a dryer is needed to make sure the lice are dead.

There are some over-the-counter medications that purportedly will help repel sea lice.

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