Geneva Lake beachgoers can develop ‘swimmer’s itch’
LAKE GENEVA From mid-June through July, Geneva Lake beaches occasionally experience swimmer’s itch outbreaks. While it is not a serious health hazard, swimmer’s itch is irritating to the skin, according to a news release from the Geneva Lake Environmental Agency.
Swimmer’s itch is not an indication of polluted water, but develops when a microscopic parasite, cercaria, bores into a person’s skin. The cercaria soon dies, triggering the formation of itchy red spots or bumps on the skin called cercarial dermatitis. The irritation can last several days, but can be shortened if scratching is avoided.
The release notes cercaria exists for part of its lifetime in certain snails. In mid-June and July the cercaria leave the snails in search of waterfowl, a new host to complete their life cycle. It is by accident that they come into contact with humans.
To reduce the risk of swimmer’s itch, swim in water away from the shore and avoid repeatedly going in and out of the water. Children are often at the greatest risk due to their tendency to play in shallow water.
Be aware of the direction of the wind and waves. Warm temperature increase the release of the cercaria, which are only 1/50th of an inch long and nearly impossible to see with the naked eye.
Steps can also be taken to reduce the cercaria from entering your skin. Once a person gets out of the water, cercaria burrow into his skin in order to survive. To prevent this, thoroughly towel dry immediately after leaving the water in order to smother, crush or brush off the parasites. Fresh water showers taken immediately after leaving the lake can also reduce the chances of swimmer’s itch. So can some of the new sunscreens, which protect the skin from the cercaria.
Treat swimmer’s itch as you would a mosquito bite by applying calamine or antihistamine lotion to the small red marks on the skin. Swimmer’s itch isn’t contagious and will not spread by touching or scratching—however, excessive scratching can lead to an infection. It is generally not a health threat and lasts a few days. In severe cases, an infected individual may feel nauseated or have difficulty sleeping. If these symptoms persist or intensify, contact a doctor.