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.
How to Treat Jellyfish Stings
Dr. Jorge López Granja, Dermatologist
Jellyfish stings can vary greatly in severity. Most often they result in immediate pain and red, irritated marks on the skin. Some jellyfish stings may cause more whole-body (systemic) illness, and in rare cases, are life-threatening. Most jellyfish stings get better with home treatment, but severe reactions require emergency medical care. Here’s Dr. Lopez’ professional advice about the topic.
Jellyfish tentacles contain microscopic barbed stingers (nematocysts). Each nematocyst is made up of a tiny bulb that holds venom and a coiled, sharp-tipped tube. The jellyfish uses the venom to protect itself and kill prey.
When something comes in contact with the tentacle — a fish or a human — tiny triggers on the surface of the tentacle release the nematocysts. The sharp tube penetrates the skin and releases the venom, which affects the immediate area of contact and may enter the bloodstream.
Jellyfish that have washed up on a beach may still release venomous stingers if touched.
The following tips can help you avoid jellyfish stings:
Wear a protective suit. When swimming or diving in areas where jellyfish stings are possible, wear a wetsuit or other protective clothing.
Avoid water during jellyfish season. Stay out of the water when jellyfish numbers are high.
Don't dive in. To avoid stings on the face, don't dive into waters that may have jellyfish.
If you’re stung, leaving the water as calmly as possible, rather than splashing about, may prevent further activation of stingers.
A reaction to a jellyfish sting can vary in severity. The reaction may be more severe depending on:
Common signs and symptoms include:
If left untreated the symptoms generally resolve within one to two weeks. Discoloration of the skin may last one to two months.
Severe jellyfish stings can cause a widespread (systemic) reaction. These reactions may appear rapidly or several hours after a sting. Signs and symptoms of severe jellyfish stings can include: nausea, vomiting, headache, weakness, difficulty breathing, irregular heartbeat, muscle spasms. If this happens seek medical treatment right away.
Most jellyfish stings can be treated with relatively simple at-home remedies:
Remedies to Avoid
When to see a doctor
Although jellyfish stings can be quite painful, most are minor and get better with home treatment.
Seek emergency treatment if:
Types of jellyfish
While many types of jellyfish (such as the Moon jellyfish and the Cannonball or Cabbage Head jellyfish found in Belize) are relatively harmless to humans, others can cause severe pain and are more likely to cause systemic reactions. Types of jellyfish known to cause more-serious problems in people include:
Sea nettles. Common in both warm and moderately cool seawaters.
Portuguese man-of-wars/Bluebottle jellyfish. (Although this is not a jellyfish, but a siphonophore, it is included here due to the similarity in symptoms). These species live mostly in warmer seas (tropical and subtropical Pacific and Atlantic oceans). A Portuguese man-of-war has a blue or purplish gas-filled bubble that keeps it afloat on the surface of the water and acts as a sail.
Lion's mane jellyfish. These are the world's largest jellyfish. The body of a lion's mane can reach a diameter of 10 feet (3 meters). They are most common in cooler, northern regions of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
Box jellyfish. Also called sea wasps, box jellyfish are generally the most harmful jellyfish to humans and can cause significant pain. Life-threatening reactions are more common with these species. The more dangerous species of box jellyfish are found in the warm waters of the Pacific and Indian oceans.
Beware of the Pica Pica! Jellyfish Abundant During Easter Season
Many explain it as having hundreds of mosquitoes biting you all over at the same time. Most of the time you will not be aware that you have been stung by the hundreds of Thimble Jellyfish that you have come in contact with. Spring/Easter season brings the ‘Pica Pica’ jellyfish to the shores of Belize.
The Thimble Jellyfish make their appearance to the shores of Belize during the windy days between March and May, but its not uncommon to find these jellyfish from late January all the way to June. They suddenly arrive when the high winds and strong currents start making their way into the area.
The Thimble Jellyfish is locally known as the Dedal and the discharge of their larvae is called the Pica Pica, although locals call the jellyfish Pica Pica. It is this discharge that contains the stinging cells that will cause a skin irritation. Many will find that playing with the actual jellyfish will not cause any skin irritation unless they are releasing their larvae.
This marine animal is a small jellyfish resembling a thimble that measures about 1" in diameter and is conspicuously mottled with dark brown markings. They appear in dense aggregations which are transported by winds and current.
So if you are planning of having some fun in the sea during this time of year in Belize, BE WARNED and make sure you keep away from them.
Why Is There A Need For A Warning On The Thimble Jellyfish?
Some Preventative Measures.
Is there Treatment?
Click here for more information.
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