Sea lice spotted in Gulf

Sea lice spotted in Gulf

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - You've probably heard of head lice, but what about sea lice?

They're actually the larvae, or offspring, of what's known as thimble jellyfish.

"The larvae themselves are very small, about the size of the head of a pen. It's something you can't see when you're in the water," UAB Biology Professor Dr. Stephen Watts said.

Most of the time, sea lice don't cause people any major problems.

"But they do have a tendency to find their way into your various garments," Watts explained.

If that happens people can have what's known "seabather's eruption."  That can mean some itching and a pretty nasty looking rash.

"If your bathing suit rubs against your skin and rubs against these small larvae, they will discharge a small harpoon, if you will, that can penetrate the skin and cause a slight irritation," Watts said.

So far this vacation season, we know of at least one nearby beach that's warning swimmers of the watery pests.

The South Walton Fire District in Florida, which covers a large portion of the area between Destin and Panama City, is flying its purple flags right now.

That's signifying marine life is present and in this case it means sea lice.

However, Watts says people shouldn't cancel their vacation plans just yet.

"This is not a major issue.  It may cause some minor levels of discomfort.  But if you're in the water and you feel like you're simply itching and being stung as it would be, then simply go ahead out of the water," Watts said.

If you are stung, experts suggest pouring hot water over your body.  That will help ease the pain.  However, you should never use cold water.

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