SOUTHERN UTAH – Good news for swimmers looking to dive into nearby waters this summer: They may be a bit less itchy than usual.
Laura Melling, park manager for Quail Creek and Sand Hollow State Parks, said few incidents of swimmer’s itch have been reported so far this summer.
“We’ve had very few reports this year. On Saturday, I had about 15,000 people through here and had six cases reported. Three were itching without a rash—could be a reaction to the sun or dry skin, and the other four I didn’t personally see,” Melling said.
Swimmer’s itch is the human body’s allergic reaction to a free-swimming microscopic parasite called cercarial that lives in shallow water. It is found throughout the world and is more frequent during summer months.
Signs and symptoms of swimmer’s itch
- Tingling, burning or itching of the skin
- Small reddish pimples
- Small blisters
Symptoms can occur within minutes after leaving infected water, or hours in some cases. The small reddish pimples will typically appear within 12 hours. These pimples can then turn into small blisters. Scratching the infected area can lead to secondary infections. The itching can last a week or more, but will generally go away in about three days. All symptoms usually do not last longer than a week or two.
“It exists. The reality of my research through the health department is that 7 percent of the public will have a reaction,” Melling said. “It’s like with kids that get the measles, most don’t get them again. But there are some people that never build up an antibody to swimmer’s itch and get it every year. It’s an irritant that is miserable.”
Melling has a few solutions to prevent swimmers itch: “Put on bug repellant and waterproof sun block and dry off when you get out of the water because this is a parasite that moves from fish to water fowl to fish, and that’s how it moves around from lake to lake,” she said. “The parasite tries to burrow into human skin which it can’t do, so it irritates people.”
What local dermatologists say
Greg Jacobsen, dermatologist at Southwest Skin and Cancer Institute said, “This is the time of year – June, July, August – when there is a local outbreak, we see quite a bit of it. We’ve seen a half-dozen (cases) so far this year. It’s common. Most people don’t come in for it anymore because they already know what it is.”
- Soak in colloidal oatmeal baths
- Bathe in Epson salts or baking soda
- Corticosteroid (anti-itch) cream
- Cool compress to the affected area
- Use an anti-itch lotion
- Apply baking soda paste to the rash
Is medical attention necessary?
Swimmer’s itch is not tracked by the health department because it is not a life-threatening condition. Most cases do not require medical attention, but if symptoms persist after two weeks, contact your doctor.
Melling said people shouldn’t worry or be discouraged from swimming in potentially infected waters. “This is not a health issue. This is nature,” she said. “It’s part of the food chain. Go for a swimming pool if it bothers you, because there is no such thing as a paradise without flaws.”
Additional information on swimmer’s itch can be found on the Sand Hollow State Park website.
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