Mathew Holding Eagle

Swimmer’s itch is very common during the summer months. Otter Tail County Public Health assistant Kristi Wentworth suggests that swimmers avoid marshy areas of lakes or swim in deeper spots, if they can.

With watersports popular again there has been reports of Swimmer’s Itch in lakes like Otter Tail and East Lost. Both lakes are part of the Otter Tail River watershed.

Swimmer’s itch is common with reported cases somewhere in the county almost every summer. It is not confined to the county either. It is considered a worldwide problem.

“We do see swimmer’s itch in our community, especially during the early summer season,” Otter Tail County Public Health assistant director, Kristi Wentworth said. “Perhaps people want to avoid the marshy areas of the lake and swim in the deeper spots, if it’s safe for them to do so. Showering and drying off well after you swim is always a good idea as well.”

According to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, swimmer’s itch is a rash caused by an allergic reaction to parasites that will burrow into the skin while a person is swimming or wading. The parasites live in birds and mammals but before affecting those hosts swimmer’s itch gets released into the waters by infected snails living near the shoreline. It is one of the reasons that children have the highest risk of the disease but is not contagious and usually goes away within a week.

Swimmer’s itch in a lake is not permanent but there is no way of knowing how long it can be in the water.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the disease can be controlled with hydrocortisone cream applied to the skin. The cream will help with both itching and rash. Other treatments are antihistamines such as Benadryl, which can be taken orally.

Tips from the Minnesota Department of Health for dealing with swimmer’s itch include: bathing in epsom salts or baking soda, soaking in colloidal oatmeal bath, and applying cool compresses to the affected areas.

There are some preventative tips to keep in mind:

Choose swimming spots carefully. Avoid swimming in areas where swimmer’s itch is a known problem or signs warn of possible contamination. Also avoid swimming or wading in marshy areas where snails are commonly found.

Avoid the shoreline, if possible. If you’re a strong swimmer, head to deeper water for your swim. You may be more likely to develop swimmer’s itch if you spend a lot of time in warmer water near the shore.

Rinse after swimming. Rinse exposed skin with clean water immediately after leaving the water, then vigorously dry your skin with a towel. Wash swimsuits often.

Skip the breadcrumbs. Don’t feed birds on docks or near swimming areas.

Apply waterproof sunscreen. This has been reported to protect the skin from the parasite that causes swimmer’s itch.

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