Virginia Beach

Sunbathers watch the ocean at Virginia Beach Tuesday, May 25, 2010.

Some beachgoers have been left itching this week as Virginia Beach lifeguards say there’s been an increase in reports of sea lice.

Tom Gill, the chief of the Virginia Beach Lifesaving Service, said sea lice, or tiny jellyfish larvae, are commonly seen across beaches on the Atlantic Ocean. Lifeguards at Virginia Beach heard a couple of people had been stung, and then received more reports throughout the week, though Gill said it was never a large enough amount of people that swimmers wouldn’t go in the water.

Sea lice affect swimmers by getting caught in their bathing suits, stinging them and causing itching and a rash.

“They don’t mean to, but they start to inject a little toxin, which causes a rash in the area,” Gill said. “It’s stuck in your suit and you can’t really see it very well. You need to get that suit off and rinsed and washed out and cleared of all the larvae, and you need to get washed out of all the larvae in any of the hair areas — but that’s hard to do when you’re on a public beach.”

Gill recommended any swimmers who get stung go back to their hotel or house and wash their bathing suit as well as the affected areas of their body. They should treat the rash how they would any other rash or inflammation, with topical ointment or any other method that works for them.

Virginia Beach lifeguards also said Sandbridge Beach had reports of more sea lice. Sandbridge lifeguards said they do not track sea lice movements.

Gill said there had been no reports of sea lice thus far Friday, and beachgoers coming for the weekend should not be deterred from visiting.

Julie Levans, the senior curator at the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, said reports of sea lice are “more than likely” actually referring to blue crab larvae.

Blue crab larvae, a step along the process of blue crab metamorphosis, produce the same effect of getting in swimmers’ bathing suits and causing itchiness.

“The little blue crab larvae look like little aliens and do have little pinchers,” Levans said. “They’re pretty harmless. There’s not too much trauma they can actually do just because they can do so little.”

Levans said the presence of blue crab larvae is actually a sign of a healthy Chesapeake Bay ecosystem, considering only a select few — about 1 out of every 500,000 — will turn into a full-grown blue crab that can be harvested and eaten. The larvae can actually be seen by swimmers in many cases, so Levans suggested beachgoers just avoid areas where they’ve been spotted and rinse their bathing suits and bodies “really, really well” if they get stung.

She also said aquarium staff members are seeing more blue crab larvae in the Sandbridge Beach area than Virginia Beach.

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