updated 7/31/2006 9:03:43 AM ET 2006-07-31T13:03:43

A swarm of slimy invaders is menacing beachgoers on North Carolina's southern coast.  Jellyfish have stung so many people in the area of Wrightsville Beach and Carolina Beach that the New Hanover County Health Department issued an alert on Friday.

Charles Smith, the director of Carolina Beach Ocean Rescue, says reports of stings have been gradually increasing over the past couple of weeks, and at least 75 people were stung by sea nettles and other jellyfish from Monday through Thursday.

One swimmer had to be taken to New Hanover Regional Medical Center with a suspected Portuguese man-of-war sting.

"I can't recall any particular year that it's been that bad," Smith said.

Sea nettles, a type of jellyfish, began arriving at Wrightsville Beach in mid-July, a few weeks ahead of schedule.  Now they're bombarding Carolina Beach, where so many were in the water on Thursday that lifeguards posted red flags to alert visitors of dangerous conditions.

At Wrightsville Beach, Ocean Rescue director Dave Baker said lifeguards treated about a dozen stings a day when the jellyfish were at their peak. They're now down to about one a day.

Experts offer a variety of reasons for the increase in jellyfish, ranging from tropical weather pushing them inland to a combination of temperatures, salinity and rich feeding grounds.

"Last year we had very few, this year we have a lot," Baker said. "It's just Mother Nature."

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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