The sea is one of the attractions that makes Belize and many other places in the Caribbean so enjoyable for both visitors and those of us lucky enough to live here. But that sea also has its dangers. Forget about sharks, stingrays and moray eels. Probably its biggest underwater pest -- especially during the late spring -- is a condition known as pica-pica, which comes from jellyfish.
Outbreaks of pica-pica have been reported in Belize, including Turneffe, St. George's Caye and Placencia. SCUBA divers who wear wet suits are not immune, as the tiny creatures can get inside and make the condition even worse. It goes by many names, but there's no confusing the discomfort and disfigurement that first hits only after you've left the water.
Pica Pica and the effects are actually caused by the offspring of the thimble jellyfish which appear in the millions around April or so.
Many people think that the thimble jellyfish is the actual culprit of the stinging, however Adult thimble jellyfish do not cause any sting. But in the spring season, the thimble jellyfish are doing the wild thing and their offspring, which are microscopic, are the real culprits of the rashs and stings.
People think that by wearing a wetsuit will protect the wearer, but because the offspring are very very small when the wetsuit fills up with water the critters are in the water and still sting.
So how do we battle these little monsters?
Normal areas affected are the under arm area stomach under the chin and neck area.
Vaseline is very good as it forms a protective layer over the skin. However, be careful not to use Petroleum vaseline if you are using a a silicone mask as it will disintegrate the silicone. So only use non petroleum vaseline.
That is a preventative measure, but what if you have already been stung?
A vinegar solution is best to neutralize the stinging cells. Just apply to sensitive areas immediately after getting out of the water, then apply a good antihistamine cream to the area to stop the itching. Bring some Diprosone Cream with you or pick some up at a local pharmacy, it's the most effective relief for the itch from pica pica!!! Or use Eurox lotion on your skin and if it's a bigger problem, use Eurox and buy Atarax antihistimines. Avaiable over the counter.
It seems the reaction gets worse with each repeated exposure.
Here's a couple experiences with pica pica...
We dove off Ambergris 5/3-5/9 and I experienced a bout with what we decided was pica pica. I wore a wetsuit skin and never got in the sea otherwise. What I first thought was a sunburn on my neck and chest, I realized was more puffy and red, like poison oak. I also had little bumps on my arms and legs, like goosebumps. It was not that uncomfortable but my neck was especially itchy and hot. All symptoms decreased in a few days and were not severe enough to interfere with my activities. The local response was "Windex" or anything with ammonia in it. I think that remedy is only for the cooling evaporative effect, although it probably wouldn't hurt after diving anyways. We went into the swimming pool after each dive just to refresh, so I think the pica pica reaction was already underway and ammonia bathing wouldn't be any different than chlorine bathing. We had some packets of cortisone cream in our first aid kit and that gave me the most relief. (Aloe vera gel felt good but wore off quickly.) After that stash was depleted, we went to the big supermarket for more cortisone cream and found it in the form of "Summer's Eve" female personal itching cream. What the heck, it worked! Expensive, though.Discussion with Doctors
Peter Craig, Clinical Dermatologist
That clinical presentation includes very intense itching, bumps and skin rashes that occurs once the person reaches the water. Some victims even experience fever and nausea. Just as the condition is known by various names, like sea bather's eruption and sea lice, according to James Azueta, of the Fisheries Department, pica-pica also has more than one suggested cause.
James Azueta, Co-ordinator, Ecosystems Management Unit
"The doctor was actually explaining to you the effects of jellyfish, where they actually stinging cells. The stinging cells, what they call nematocysts, they are the ones responsible. They go into the flesh and they stay in there then they have a reaction with the body. The body just tries to defend itself, that's why it itches and it swells and everything. That's common for the body to react to foreign bodies."
It's important to remember that there is no product you can use to prevent an eruption once you run into the pica-pica.
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