Sea itch is back

Reports from around the Islands suggest that sea itch is causing problems in Cayman’s waters again with the onset of summer.

Sea itch

Sea itch can cause a painful and itchy stinging sensation. Photo: Submitted.

Dive companies’ employees have reported sea itch cases along Seven Mile Beach in recent weeks, although John Bothwell, a research officer with the Department of Environment, said swimmers are at risk of being affected in waters all around the Cayman Islands.

‘While it can be localised, you can find it anywhere once it arrives,’ he said, noting that sea-itch is common throughout Caribbean waters in summer months.

Sea itch is caused by the microscopic larvae of thimble jellyfish, which are too small to see in the water.

Experts say sea itch outbreaks can happen anytime between March and August, although it is usually at its worst between mid April and early July.

Adam Buth, a dive instructor with Red Sail Sports, said he has been seeing cases of sea itch along Seven Mile Beach for the past month, although he cautioned it has been no worse than previous years.

He said Seven Mile Beach seems to be worse affected when south to southwest winds blow the larvae toward the beach, while northeast winds tend to blow the stingers off-shore.

‘It’s not been serious; it’s just irritating,’ Mr. Buth said.

Protection

Mr. Bothwell said that swimmers can get some protection from the stingers by smearing themselves with thick sunscreen before swimming. Other dive experts recommend lathering up with baby oil before hitting the waters.

Gary Hallas, acting manager of the Central Caribbean Marine Institute on Little Cayman, where sea itch cases have also been reported recently, said he knows of people that use fabric softener to repel the tiny larvae.

Sea itch symptoms usually begin four to 24 hours after exposure and include an itchy and painful stinging sensation and small blistering in affected areas. In rare but severe cases, usually with young children, it can lead to vomiting, nausea, diarrhoea, fever, headaches and muscle spasm.

Soothing symptoms

So what can you do if you think you have been stung?

The first thing people should do is strip their clothes off before rinsing in fresh water, Mr. Bothwell said. Stingers can get caught in swimwear and ‘fire’ when pressure is applied to them, or when they are exposed to foreign environments such as air or fresh water.

‘That way if anything is caught in their clothes it won’t sting them while they are rinsing off,’ he said.

Topical ointments such as chamomile lotion, Benadryl anti-itch cream and other antihistamine creams are among the best bets to stop painful itching, he added.

Mr. Hallas has heard of other people using the feminine anti-itch cream, Vagisil, to sooth sea-itch symptoms, and of others burning the stingers off with a hair dryer.

‘It’s not going to work for everyone, but I know of some people that swear by it,’ Mr. Hallas said.

Mr. Buth recommends Sting Zapper, a topical ointment available from diver shops and pharmacies. He has also found applying white vinegar can be useful for treating sea-itch symptoms.

Mr. Bothwell warned that anyone experiencing severe allergic reaction, discomfort or pain after coming into contact with marine creatures should seek immediate medical attention.

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