HURRICANE — With Sand Hollow Mayhem bringing thousands to Sand Hollow Reservoir in Hurricane for a full blown beach party with emphasis on water sports Saturday, the renown swimmer’s itch that many experience after bathing in the state’s warm water reservoir is on many people’s radar. Some people are saying it’s worse this year than ever, while park officials report it’s another normal year.
What is swimmer’s itch?
As Sand Hollow Reservoir warms to 70 degrees, a free-swimming microscopic parasite called cercarial that lives in shallow water flourishes. It is not unique to Sand Hollow and can be found worldwide especially in summer months.
Neighboring Quail Lake Reservoir does not struggle with the swimmer’s itch complaints because the water is slightly more acidic which naturally repels the parasite. A reliable indication of the parasite is whether cattails can be found growing around the lake, Department of Natural Resources Park Manager Laura Melling said. If there are cattails then there is most likely swimmer’s itch.
Swimmer’s itch is a person’s allergic reaction to the cercarial parasite with symptoms that include tingling, burning or itching of the skin, small reddish pimples and small blisters. Scratching the infected area can lead to secondary infections.
Eradication of the parasite from Sand Hollow would involve poisoning the water which would kill the fish and possibly leach into the water supply.
“It’s an irritant for everyone but it’s not a health issue,” Melling said. “Nothing is going to get done about it because of the people who own the water.”
Carl LeBray of Hurricane said his family frequents Sand Hollow every year. They have experienced swimmer’s itch in the past, he said, but this year is brutal and much worse.
“My kids were in the water for only 30 to 40 minutes and they came out screaming bloody murder,” LeBray said. “They were experiencing an extreme burning sensation before they got out of the water. Normally it’s just itchy the next day.”
The spots didn’t show up until the next day, which covered LeBray’s kids from head to toe with “spots within every half inch,” he said. “No one told us about it. Then there is the huge Mayhem tomorrow, it’s going to be a catastrophe. We need to get the state to do something about it.”
Alexa Wray recalls her late fiancé Jake Foote contracting swimmer’s itch from a shallow part of the Sand Hollow Reservoir.
“It was awful for him,” Wray said. “He went to the doctor and had to take medicated baths.”
Worse this year?
The problem is just about the same as it was last year, Melling said. Statistically, 7 percent of the population will experience swimmer’s itch one time.
One of the park rangers who frequently snorkels said that after the parasites hatch they can be seen free floating in a cluster beneath the surface, Melling said, which could be one of the reasons why some people feel that this year’s swimmer’s itch is worse than ever.
A person could stumble into an area of high concentration of parasites and contract a severe case of swimmer’s itch, while another person six feet away might not contract the itch at all.
Prevention and treatment
Preventative measures include applying sunscreen lotion before immersing yourself into the water — not the spray on kind which is too thin to deter the parasite — and then immediately drying off with a towel when you get out.
“One thing we try to remind visitors is that swimmer’s itch isn’t something you’re going to have for 10 years,” Melling said. “It goes away after about three to five days.”
Melling said she hands out free samples of Allegra cream to park visitors to help relieve itching.
Other treatments recommended include:
- 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
St. George News Reporter Kimberly Scott contributed to this report.
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