With summer now in full swing in the Northwoods, and area residents and visitors taking to the lakes as a way to cool off, the Vilas County Public Health Department (VCPHD) wants the public to be aware of swimmer’s itch and encourages all swimmers to take simple preventive measures when swimming in any area lake or pond.
“Swimmer’s itch, also called cercarial dermatitis, appears as a skin rash caused by an allergic reaction to certain microscopic parasites that infect some birds and mammals,” said Gina Egan, Vilas County Public Health Director. These parasites are released from infected snails into fresh and salt water (such as lakes, ponds and oceans). While the parasite’s preferred host is the specific bird or mammal, if the parasite comes into contact with a swimmer, it burrows into the skin, causing an allergic reaction and rash.
Swimmer’s itch is found throughout the world and is more frequent during summer months.
Anyone who swims or wades in infested water may be at risk. Larvae are more likely to be present in shallow water by the shoreline. Children are most often affected because they tend to swim, wade, and play in the shallow water more than adults. Also, they are less likely to towel dry themselves when leaving the water.
Swimmer’s itch is not contagious and cannot be spread from one person to another.
Symptoms of swimmer’s itch may include:
• tingling, burning or itching of the skin
• small, reddish pimples
• small blisters
Within minutes to days after swimming in contaminated water, tingling, burning, or itching of the skin may be experienced. Small, reddish pimples appear within 12 hours. Pimples may develop into small blisters. Scratching the areas may result in secondary bacterial infections. Itching may last up to a week or more, but will gradually go away.
Most cases of swimmer’s itch do not require medical attention. To treat a rash, the Centers for Disease Control suggest trying the following for relief:
• Use corticosteroid cream
• Apply cool compresses to the affected areas
• Bathe in Epsom salts or baking soda
• Soak in colloidal oatmeal baths
• Apply baking soda paste to the rash (made by stirring water into baking soda until it reaches a paste-like consistency)
• Use an anti-itch lotion
To reduce the likelihood of swimmer’s itch:
• Shower immediately after coming out of the water, if facilities are available
• Briskly dry off with a towel, especially where the bathing suit touches the skin, as soon as exiting the water
• The organism is found is shallow water, so limit the amount of time spent wading
• Do not feed waterfowl in areas where people swim
The Vilas County Public Health Department hopes these swimming safety tips will help everyone have a healthy summer.