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Holy ew: “Sea lice” are an IRL rash-causing thing—here’s how to avoid ’em at the beach


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Photo: Stocksy/Alexey Kuzma

If you’ve ever had bed bugs or dust mites in your home or returned from a hike covered in bites, you know nothing is worse than realizing that little creepy-crawlies are feasting on you. Yes, you’ve been warned to be extra careful while hiking in the woods to avoid teeny critters, like ticks (which can cause red-meat allergies!), especially since the number of diseases caused by mosquitos, fleas, and other bugs are on the rise. But now new reports claim you gotta be on guard to fight off tiny creatures in an unexpected place: your next beach getaway to the Sunshine State.

A group of stinging “sea lice” is invading northwest Florida, particularly around Pensacola Beach, reports USA Today. Unlike the kind from your grade-school nightmares that affect your scalp, these guys aren’t actually lice—rather, that’s just a nickname coined by residents, according to the Florida Department of Health (FDOH). In reality, the creatures are miniature jellyfish larvae that cause issues when they come in contact with your skin. They generally only survive in the warm saltwater of the Caribbean and Gulf Coast between March and August.

Though sea lice don’t typically cause major damage to your health, the effects of swimming in their presence isn’t fun. They sting when they get trapped in your bathing suit or hair, and the cells they release can irritate the skin, resulting in itchy rashes and welts that appear four to six hours after being exposed and last between two days to two weeks. In severe cases, people also experience headaches, fever, nausea, and blisters.

But there’s no need to avoid the ocean water as if you just watched Jaws for the first time: There are some ways you can avoid coming in contact with sea lice. Aside from noting the flags officials have placed on the beach to deter swimmers from the infested areas, the FDOH says it’s better to wear a two-piece since one-pieces trap the critters close to your skin, causing more stings. And in addition to protecting you from harmful UV rays, wearing sunscreen may add a layer of protection that prevents the jellyfish babies from penetrating your skin (but hey, you’re obviously already slathering on the SPF, right?).

Once you leave the beach, you should remove your swimsuit and shower with warm water ASAP. Then wash your swimsuit with detergent in warm water and dry it with heat—air-drying won’t work. If you take those precautionary measures and still develop a rash, you can soothe the itchiness with an antihistamine and also fight the breakout by applying an over-the-counter 0.5 percent hydrocortisone cream.

So sure, the visual of little creepy-crawlies swimming alongside you in the deep blue sea is pretty cringeworthy, but there’s no reason to let the icky outbreak stop you from enjoying your summer trips. Just think of it as another reason to rationalize buying some new chic bikinis.

Here’s why you might want to skip Brazilian bikini waxes this year. And some ouch-free hair-down-there maintenance tips you can use instead.

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