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Why spring break beachgoers should be aware of the Portuguese man-of-war

The creatures and their lengthy tentacles can sting — even after they're dead. In parts of the U.S, the creatures are creating a beach bummer for some spring breakers.
/ Source: TODAY

Beachgoers may find an unwelcome guest while taking a dip this spring and summer. The Portuguese man-of-war is a shiny creature resembling a balloon that can cause quite a bit of pain, thanks to its toxin-filled tentacles.

“Portuguese man of war are pretty terrible. They are very, very painful,” University of South Carolina Beaufort professor of biology Dr. Joe Staton told TODAY.

Staton also noted that the creatures can wash up on shore because of shifting wind patterns. That can be problematic because their tentacles, which can drop 165 feet below the surface, are capable of stinging even after they’ve died and washed ashore.

Portuguese Man of War, Physalia physalis, Azores, Atlantic Ocean, Portugal
The Portuguese man-of-war is armed with tentacles that can sting and cause excruciating pain.Reinhard Dirscherl / ullstein bild via Getty Images

Hannah Almanzar, 20, is a college student who was stung while on spring break in Florida. After going in the water, she felt something pinch her chest, and then the pain got worse.

“I thought, at first, it was just like my bathing suit,” she told TODAY. “And then I felt it was just like kind of like burning everywhere else.”

Almanzar went to an emergency room, where she received an injection of anti-inflammatory medicine to help her deal with the pain.

“I kind of thought for a moment that I’m like either was going to die or was going to be close to it just because of how bad the pain was, because I've never felt anything like that,” she said.

A sting from the Portuguese man-of-war is rarely fatal, according to the National Ocean Service. The creatures reside in tropical waters year-round, but tend to be found in coastal waters in the spring and summer seasons.

If you do get stung, experts recommend a few tips:

  • Spray or pour vinegar on the wound to neutralize the venom.
  • Don't touch the spot with your hands; instead, scrape the skin with an object like a credit card to get rid of any residue.

Soaking the affected area with hot water can help remove toxins.