What is Swimmers Itch?
Swimmers itch refers to a swim rash caused by an allergic reaction to certain microscopic parasite larvae. These parasites lay eggs in, and infect waterfowl and certain water going animals such as muskrats. The feces from these animals contain the eggs which hatch into larvae. These Larvae then infect a certain species of snail where they multiply and are released again. The parasitic larvae then search for a host such as waterfowl and occasionally humans. If they come in contact with a human they can bury under the skin which causes the allergic reaction and rash. Lucky for us, the parasite cannot survive in humans and dies quickly after it comes in contact with our skin. However, they leave us with a nasty rash and irritating itch.
Swimmers itch usually occurs in freshwater such as lakes and ponds but can still be found in saltwater as well.
How to know if you have/had swimmers itch
If you recently went swimming and now have a rash, itching/burning feel on your skin, or red bumps/blisters you may have swimmers itch.
The severity of the allergic reaction varies depending on the person. Some may react a lot and some not so much.
How to treat it
Although swimmers itch may sound and look like a serious condition that needs medical attention it usually does not. Most of the time symptoms go away within a week on their own. Here are some things you can do to help treat it at home.
- Use Calamine Lotion
- Apply cool clothes to compress on skin
- Take lukewarm baths with baking soda or epsom salts
- Use anti-itch cream
Note: Swimmers itch is not contagious so it cannot be passed from person-person.
Although it may be hard, try to resist the temptation to scratch the affected area. Scratching may cause infection which can lead to longer recovery or sometimes medical attention.
How to Avoid the Itch
Choose swimming spots carefully – Look for advisories and warnings before going swimming. You can also visit http://swimmersitch.ca for current swimmers itch reports across Canada.
Swim in Deeper Water – The snails that release the parasite tend to be in shallow, marshy, warmer water. Try to avoid these areas when swimming and if you’re a strong swimmer, head to deeper water where there is less of a chance of being infected.
Rinse off after Swimming – Rinse off your skin and swimsuit with clean water right after swimming. Drying with a towel will also help lower your chances of getting the itch.
Don’t encourage the wildlife – Best not to feed any waterfowl or any wildlife that is around the waterbody. Droppings from certain animals are part of the swimmers itch life cycle and can lead to increased outbreaks.
Since these parasites are so small and unpredictable it’s difficult to determine when and where an outbreak will occur. You can help by reporting – If you or someone you know gets swimmers itch you can report where and when it happened to swimmersitch.ca to inform others before they choose a place to take a dip.
All this being said, don’t let swimmers itch stop you from getting in the water. In the majority of swimmable waterbodies around, the chances of getting swimmers itch are unlikely, and even if you do come across it, it’s not the end of the world. It’s good to become educated about it and to be aware of the risk but it should not scare you away from finding a place to swim.