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U.S. Health Service recommends skinny dipping ... for sea lice

January 17, 1997

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) _ The U.S. Health Service is recommending a radical way to thwart sea lice, those nasty, stinging little critters that seasonally infest the Florida surf: Swim naked.

Sea lice actually are microscopic jellyfish that get trapped beneath the binding parts of swimsuits. They react defensively by injecting a venom that can cause a rash, also known as seabather’s eruption.

No suit, no sting.

A three-page article on the problem in the current Public Health Reports, the official publication of the U.S. Health Service, made no mention of nude swimming. But the journal’s editors offered this cheeky addendum:

``In the interest of good public health research and practice, we feel compelled to note that abandoning swimming garments altogether, usually referred to as `nude bathing’ or `skinny dipping’ might go a long way to reducing the occurrence of this disease.″

The March-to-August sea-lice season peaks in May. Women and children are usually affected more than men because they have thinner skin.

But men can be afflicted on their upper bodies when the tiny jellyfish entangle in chest hair, said Alina Szmant, an associate professor of marine biology and fisheries at the University of Miami.

The attack occurs when the bather rinses off in fresh water, which bursts the toxin capsules inside the tiny jellyfish. The toxins work slowly, so the stinging usually doesn’t strike until the next day.

For those ocean bathers who refuse the government’s advice, Ms. Szmant suggested taking a freshwater shower only AFTER removing the swimsuit. She said rubbing down with alcohol after swimming is the best remedy.

``Vinegar or meat tenderizer,″ recommended Vince Weir, a lifeguard at South Beach for 19 years. That works, Szmant said, because their enzymes break down the jellyfish protein that is the toxin.