What is swimmer’s itch?


UTAH (ABC4) – With warmer days upon us, you might be ready to head to the nearest reservoir for a swim to cool off.

When you step into the water, health officials remind Utah residents that with the warmer months, swimmer’s itch comes.

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Sand Hollow State Park has already received several reports of swimmer itching. The Utah Department of Health warns that other state parks and bodies of water can be itchy for swimmers. Authorities say they are aware of any warning signs at entrance gates or boat ramps before entering the water.

Anyone swimming or wading in infested water is at risk of contracting swimmer itch, but the larvae are more likely to be found in shallow water near shore. Children are most often infected because they tend to play in shallow water more than adults.

What is swimmer’s itch and where does it come from?

While harmless, swimmer’s itch is an itchy rash caused by your body’s allergic reaction to a microscopic free-swimming parasite – cercarial – found in shallow water. UDOH explains that the parasites are released in both fresh and salt water sources.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the parasites infect certain birds and mammals and are released from infected snails.

Humans are not suitable hosts for larvae, which means they will die and not spread.

What are the symptoms of swimmer’s itch?

According to UDOH, symptoms of swimmer’s itch can include:

  • Stinging, burning, or itching of the skin (can occur within minutes or days)
  • Small reddish pimples (occurring within 12 hours)
  • Small blisters (may appear after the appearance of pimples)

The UDOH reports that less than 7% of the population is affected by swimmer’s itch, and of those who are, most develop an antibody after a reaction and no longer have symptoms.

Swimmer’s itch is also not contagious and cannot spread from person to person.

Should I seek treatment?

The term “allergic reaction” may alarm you, but UDOH says that most cases of swimmer itch do not require medical attention.

If you experience a fever or other severe symptoms, you may want to see a doctor. If you have a rash, UDOH recommends trying the following for relief:

  • Over-the-counter oral antihistamines
  • Topical anti-itch creams and ointments that relieve itching
  • Apply a cool compress to the affected areas
  • Bathing in Epsom salts or baking soda

Although it can be difficult, UDOH encourages not to scratch, as this could cause infection of the rash. If the itching is severe, a healthcare professional may suggest prescription lotions or creams.

How to reduce the risk of swimmer itch

UDOH offers these tips to reduce the risk of developing an itchy rash:

  • Do not swim in areas where swimmer itching is a known problem or where signs have been posted warning of unsafe water
  • Do not swim or wade in swampy areas where snails are commonly found
  • Dry with a towel or take a shower immediately after leaving the water
  • Do not attract birds – by feeding them, for example – to areas where people swim
  • Wear sunscreen or petroleum jelly when swimming in areas prone to swimmer’s itch

A swimming pool is unlikely to be itchy for a swimmer if it is properly maintained and chlorinated.

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