What to know and how to avoid them.

By Cailey Rizzo
August 14, 2020
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Beach towns along the New Jersey coastline are reporting cases of sea lice, according to local news reports.

“It’s pretty much a spring-loaded harpoon full of poison,” Kerry Anderson, a biology instructor at Jenkinson's Aquarium in Point Pleasant, told News 12 New Jersey.

Although sea lice are just as annoying as the land-based kind, they're not exactly the same — sea lice are jellyfish larvae. They have the same stinging cells that are in full-grown jellyfish but, because of their size, they can sneak under swimsuits and stick to bodies.

Sea lice tend to be found in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico from March through August. But last month, warm currents carried the larvae much further north. It is believed their journey was triggered by Tropical Storm Isaias, according to The Press of Atlantic City.  

What’s particularly menacing about the creatures is that they are almost impossible to spot in the water. So you often don’t know that you’ve been bitten by sea lice until it’s too late.

“They are getting stuck in people's bathing suits,” Anderson told News 12 New Jersey. “If it's in your bathing suit, it's going to touch your skin more, and the more contact you have with it, the more stings you're going to get.”

Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images

Anyone who believes they were bitten by sea lice is encouraged to take off their bathing suit as soon as possible, get home and take a shower. Washing their suit in hot water and detergent will kill remaining larvae. Heat drying suits after washing will also help. It’s important to get all the larvae out because even after they’re dead, sea lice can still sting. If you react to the bites and start swelling, any over-the-counter antihistamines should help.

If you notice the bites while you’re still at the beach, tell a lifeguard so they can warn other swimmers.

Perhaps contrary to what you may believe, it’s actually better to wear less clothing at the beach if you’re worried about sea lice. The more fabric on your body, the more opportunities they have to cling. Women should opt for a two-piece suit instead of a one-piece and swimmers should avoid wearing a t-shirt in the water.