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Seabather's Eruption - Topic Overview

What is seabather's eruption?

Seabather's eruption is a rash that occurs when a swimmer is stung by marine life larvae. The condition has many names, including sea lice, pika-pika, sea poisoning, sea critters, and ocean itch.

What causes seabather's eruption?

Two types of marine life that generally cause this rash are:

  • Thimble jellyfish (Linuche unguiculata). These are found seasonally in the water off the Florida coast and across the Caribbean. The jellyfish breed in the Caribbean throughout the summer, peaking in May. The larvae are barely visible, appearing like a speck of finely ground pepper.
  • Sea anemone (Edwardsiella lineata). These are found in the water off the coast of Long Island, New York. The larvae are small (2 mm to 3 mm).

Other types of marine life may also cause this rash.

What are the symptoms of seabather's eruption?

Shortly after being stung, a swimmer may complain of skin discomfort. The rash develops in a few minutes to 12 hours after swimming. The rash consists of raised, hard or soft bumps, or blisters of different shapes and sizes that appear very red and may be extremely itchy. The larvae can become trapped in the fabric of a swimsuit, under swim caps and fins, and along the cuff edges of wet suits and T-shirts. The rash often appears in areas of the body that were covered.

Occasionally, other symptoms may occur with the rash, including nausea, vomiting, headache, fatigue, a general feeling of illness (malaise), pinkeye (conjunctivitis), and urethritis, the inflammation of the tube that carries urine from the bladder to outside of the body (urethra). Fever may occur, particularly in children.

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