Hitting the beach this summer? You may find painful company in the water as the weather warms up.
Treza Gallogly was having a year-end swim with a friend at Orewa Beach when she felt something eating at her. She got out of the water and didn't notice anything more, until angry red welts erupted on her torso the next day.
"It was a good four to five days of agony, going between being incredibly itchy to incredibly painful. It was intense," the Auckland resident said.
Gallogly is still unsure what hit her that afternoon at the beach on December 29, the start of her summer holiday.
Rashes, stings and bites can be caused by a number of sea creatures, like crabs, anemones, sea lice, and jellyfish. Some are microscopic.
Surf Life Saving Northern Region has had sightings of jellyfish on the east and west coasts of Auckland since early December.
There have also been three or four alerts on sea lice on the east coast in recent weeks, says operations manager Alan Gibson, although sea lice episodes may only last five or 10 minutes before the creatures move on.
"With summer here we're seeing warmer waters and more bathers on the coastline, so more people needing minor first aid, which are mostly itches or stings," Gibson said.
"But without being there on the ground it's hard to say what the causes are."
Lifeguards at Orewa Beach had told Gallogly she was most likely stung by jellyfish, and Auckland University marine biologist Dr Andrew Greig Jeffs agrees.
"With sea lice you know you've been bitten because its hurts, they're actually biting a chunk of flesh out of your skin. Whereas with jellyfish, you can get stung and not know until a little later when it erupts as a skin rash that becomes very itchy, and often it weeps," said Dr Jeffs.
Microscopic jellyfish can get trapped in swimwear, delivering their toxins to unaware swimmers as or after they leave the water.
"I was wearing a one-piece swimsuit and the space between the togs and my tummy was the problem," Gallogly said.
It doesn't help that some tiny jellyfish are completely transparent apart for a little black or red dot in the middle, says Dr Jeffs.
"You wouldn't see them unless you sieved the water and looked at what was in the sieve," he said.
Rashes that develop from a jellyfish sting can range from mild to severe, lasting up to a week, according to the Auckland Regional Public Health Service. Children and people with allergies may get more severe reactions and can become unwell for several days.
Swimmers can check for jellyfish sightings on Safeswim, which also provides live information on water quality and swimming conditions at Auckland beaches.
The National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research or Niwa has said jellyfish blooms are likely to be a common sight this summer because of rising ocean temperatures, which mean more food for the aquatic creatures.
Apart from a spotty torso, Gallogly has come right after her five-day ordeal and is enjoying the rest of her summer holiday.
"I didn't take any photos of it, which was probably a good thing because it was hideous!"
Her advice? "If you feel a stinging sensation in the water, get out of the water, get your togs off and wash it out with any kind of water."
WHAT TO DO AFTER A JELLYFISH STING
• Get out of the water.
• Flush the stung area with seawater to remove the tentacles.
• If tentacles are still attached, use a dry towel to remove them.
• Immerse the stung area in heated tap water for 15 to 20 minutes. Have it as hot as the person can bear without causing skin burns (and no more than 45C). A shower can be used for stings to the torso.
• Take pain relief following hot water immersion
• Do not apply vinegar or methylated spirits as they can make the sting more painful. Vinegar is only effective for Box jellyfish (found in Australia)
Source: Ministry of Health