Sea lice outbreak causes discomfort in Ocean City

The Ocean City Beach Patrol said Thursday they’ve received numerous calls from beachgoers at the resort town about sea lice in the water.

“They can get into bathing suits while swimming and cause discomfort,” a spokesman for the patrol wrote in a Facebook post.

Laura Gwyn of Potomac said that’s an understatement. She said her two children were stung by sea lice while swimming near 89th St. in Ocean City on Wednesday.

Update: Here's how to avoid getting a rash from the sea lice in Ocean City, according to a jellyfish sting expert »

“Oh my gosh, my poor kids,” Gwyn said. “It was awful.”

Gwynn said a lifeguard told them about sea lice complaints before they went in the water, but assured them that although a nuisance, it wasn’t a major cause for concern. Should they get stung, he advised, they could simply rinse with fresh water. So Gwyn’s kids, ages 13 and 15 went in the water.

“They were fine for probably 10, 15 minutes,” Gwyn said. Then, “they started losing their minds,” and ran out of the ocean, scratching frantically, she said.

The phrase “sea lice” is a misnomer — the pests are really tiny larvae of jellyfish or sea anemones. Other names for the rashes they cause can include “seabather’s eruption.”

This isn’t the first outbreak this year on the East Coast. In June, life guards in Florida warned swimmers to look out for sea lice. News reports have also documented sea lice in Carolina and Alabama beaches.

And last year, sea lice sent salmon prices soaring as they nibbled at much of the world’s farmed salmon supply — and cost the industry billions.

Health officials advise any person afflicted to wash skin with fresh water and not wear contaminated swimsuits again until they’ve been washed with soap. Antihistamines and topical creams can help control itching.

Gwyn’s said her children followed those recommendations after getting out of the water. They sprinted towards a nearby hose to rinse off, and peeled off swimsuits and clothing.

Gwyn said there were dozens in her daughter’s swimsuit and hair — she compared them in size and appearance to a chia seed, soaked in water.

“She had one in her little friendship bracelet,” Gwyn said.

According to the Baltimore city health department, other symptoms of exposure to sea lice sometimes occur with a rash, including fever, nausea, vomiting, headache, fatigue, pinkeye and urethritis.

Fortunately for Gwyn’s children, they didn’t develop rashes: their discomfort went away as soon as they rinsed off.

“We’re still at the beach but my kids won’t go back to the ocean,” she said.

Maybe next summer.

ctkacik@baltsun.com

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