Mysterious seaweed causes beachgoers to break out in blistering rash

Courtesy: University of Hawaii.
Courtesy: University of Hawaii.

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Beachgoers are breaking out in a blistering rash, and it’s not because of jellyfish or man o’ war.

KHON2 heard from several people who reported getting stung by “stinging seaweed.” It’s been around for years without much of an issue, but right now, it’s more prevalent than ever.

It looked like a picture-perfect day at Kailua Beach. But for some beachgoers, minutes or even hours after they get out of the water, they are breaking out in an itchy rash.

“Since the Fourth of July, we’ve probably had around 30 cases,” said Dr. Shane Millard with Braun Urgent Care.

Dr. Millard said in his nine years of practice at Braun Urgent Care, he’s never seen this many people affected by “stinging limu.”

“This is more like a burning irritant and you kind of want to scratch and rub, rub. But you can’t get rid of it because the toxin got into the skin and now you’re having the allergic reaction,” Dr. Millard said.

Ocean Safety says the “stinging limu” season is during the summer months when the water temperature is about five degrees warmer

But it can vary even on a day-to-day basis.

“We’ll come in one day, it won’t be there. We’ll come in the next day, it’ll be all over the place,” lifeguard Jude Parker said.

“The seaweed looks like a brown stringy mat of hair,” Dr. Millard said. “Generally, five to six inches long, but a strandy appearance.”

Multiple cases have been reported to the Department of Health. The problem areas they noted were the windward coast from Mokapu Peninsula all the way to Waimanalo Beach Park.

They’ve also received reports from Kahala, Ewa Beach, Koolina, and Lahaina, Maui.

“Any concerns with any ocean conditions, please come and see us,” Parker said.

KHON2 spoke with University of Hawaii scientist Dr. Celia Smith who is an expert on the matter. She says the limu, which is actually in the blue-green algae family, grows more quickly in warmer waters and spreads like an algae.

That combined with more beachgoers is why Dr. Smith believes there’s a spike in cases.

According to Dr. Smith, the limu releases its toxins after its cells die, causing an allergic reaction in people.

Tips if you are stung:

  • Experts say to remove any foreign objects from your swimsuit.
  • Wash your swimwear and clothes with soap and water as soon as you get home.
  • Symptoms usually go away on their own after about five days.
  • If it’s really bugging you, take Benadryl or another antihistamine.
  • You can also apply a hydrocortisone-based ointment to help with the itch.
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