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‘Sea lice’ are stinging swimmers at Virginia Beach

Back Bay Wildlife Refuge in Virginia Beach.
Back Bay Wildlife Refuge in Virginia Beach. (Jay Westcott for The Washington Post)
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Swimmers at Virginia Beach have reported being itchy after taking a dip, and local lifeguards at the popular beach town said it’s probably from being stung by what’s commonly known as “sea lice.”

Sea lice are very small, experts said, and are jellyfish larvae. They are commonly found in the Atlantic Ocean.

Lifeguards say they have received an increased number of complaints from beachgoers who were stung.

One person — Cade Welsh, who has lived in Virginia Beach for four years — described to CBS 6 what it felt like to be stung by sea lice.

“It felt like sand on your clothes and then it started to feel like things were biting you,” Welsh said. “If you, like, scratch, it feels like sand, and if you look, you’ll see a clear thing with blue eyes.”

Not just another day at the beach in Maryland: ‘Sea lice’ attack at Ocean City

Tom Gill, chief of the Virginia Beach Lifesaving Service, said on Friday that reports of sea lice seemed to be fewer. As to why there was a recent uptick, he said, there’s no clear reason.

“Water, wind, sun,” he said, “It’s just the luck-of-the-draw kind of thing.”

He said “it comes and goes” in terms of people complaining about being bitten by sea lice. But he said there’s nothing that can be done to prevent it.

“They’re little larvae,” he said. “They’re just floating in the water.”

Last summer, sea lice were reported at Ocean City. They’ve also been known to show up at Florida beaches.

If swimmers do think they’ve been bitten, lifeguards at the beach recommended rinsing off after swimming and washing out bathing suits with fresh water.

The most common signs of being bitten are bumps or a rash, and they usually show up about 24 hours — or sooner — after exposure. In some cases, the rash can last a few days or up to several weeks.

The rash is “typically associated with [the] trapping of small larvae, usually jellyfish larvae, in the ocean,” according to Michael Rexroad, environmental health manager for the Virginia Beach Department of Public Health.

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