MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) – Doctors are warning beach-goers and swimmers to be on alert for Portuguese Man o' Wars as more sightings are being reported in North Carolina. The more you know about these jelly fish like creatures, the better you can protect yourself.
Dr. Jarratt Lark with Grand Strand Medical Center says these are not 'real' jellyfish. They're in a separate category of their own. The creatures all band together to make a colony, known as the Portuguese Man o' War.
Dr. Lark says it's common to find them out in the calmer ocean waters where there is room for their tentacles to reach down 30 to 80 feet. So when we have reports of them closer to the coast, it's not like they are closing in with the intention to attack you. A weather phenomenon, like currents or wind, pushed them there. When that happens, they retract their tentacles, which concentrates that sting into one powerful punch. And that's one of the main reasons why Portuguese Man o' Wars are so dangerous in shallow waters.
"A lot of times children playing in the water, or even adults, mistake it for a balloon or some kind of toy that a kid let float away," says Dr. Lark. "So people will frequently will pick them up while they're still on the water and the tentacles will wrap around your arm and sting you."
A sting from a Man of War feels like the equivalent of having a hundred bee stings at once. So if you get stung, you need to get help from the beach patrol or a life guard right away. And remember, if you see a tentacle or part of a Man o' War on the beach, even if it's been there for days, it can still sting you.
If you have some minor issues with swelling and itching, Benadryl will help. But if your reaction is any more severe than that, you need to get to a doctor right away.
Dr. Lark says with the recent reports, we should be on alert. However, he also says it's a little reassuring that they are showing up in North Carolina. In order to get to our coast, they would need to cross the Gulf Stream. And the Gulf Stream would tend to push them north. That means they'd likely bypass us.
"One of the clues that you need to keep an eye out for Portuguese Man o' War in the water is if you see Sargasso seaweed blowing up on the beach. And that's the seaweed that's kind of a light tan brown color," warns Dr. Lark. That kind of seaweed is where the Man o' Wars tend to stick by. So if you see that coming onto the beach, chances are some Man of Wars might be close behind."
If you do get stung, the main thing to do immediately is to remove the tentacles from your body. Dr. Lark recommends using KY Jelly to do this because it won't irritate the Man o' War. Do not use fresh water, urine, or baking soda, because that will cause the tentacles to swell and keep stinging you. Then you can scrape the tentacles off by using the back of a fork, knife, stick, anything that is not exposed skin. Once the tentacles are off, you need to neutralize the venom. Dr. Lark says vinegar works best for that. A good idea is to bring a spray bottle of white vinegar with you to the beach, that way you're always prepared.