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Swimmer’s Itch: what to know and do.

Been swimming in a lake recently? Noticed a scratchy red rash appearing on your body? You may have Swimmer’s Itch

WHAT IS IT?boy swimming in pond

Swimmer’s itch or duck itch as it is sometimes known, is an allergic reaction to a microscopic waterborne parasite resulting in a temporary rash composed of red, itchy bumps that develop after swimming in lakes and ponds. The rash and itching usually starts within minutes to hours after contact with lake water. The rash develops when parasites from infected snails are released and find their way to anyone in the water. The parasite’s preferred hosts are primarily waterfowl but if the parasite meets a swimmer before finding a duck, it mistakenly burrows into the swimmer’s skin where it quickly dies but causes an allergic reaction and a rash. Swimmer’s itch is found throughout the world, and is more prevalent in warmer months.

SWIMMER’S ITCH LIFE CYCLE

swimmer's itch

FAVORABLE FACTORS

Natural lake conditions promote the diversity of species, including the birds and snails that are the primary hosts for Swimmer’s Itch that are required by the parasite to complete its life cycle. Additionally, two factors that favor swimmer’s itch are:

  • Warmer, late summer water temperatures that promote reproduction and rapid growth of snail populations and larvae
  • Seasonal summer presence of larger waterfowl populations

HOW TO REDUCE THE CHANCES OF GETTING IT

Swimmer's Itch rash

Swimmer’s Itch rash – CDC Photo Library

  • Before entering the water, use petroleum jelly or a waterproof sunscreen to help prevent the parasite from penetrating the skin.
  • Swim in water away from the shoreline where snails are most prevalent
  • Towel off quickly after exiting the water, don’t let the water evaporate from the skin.

HOW TO TREAT THE SYMPTOMS

The itching sensation usually develops within a few minutes to a few hours and can last from several days to a week. Unfortunately, people do not develop an immunity to the parasite but rather they become more sensitive with each outbreak. Temporary relief may be found in over-the-counter anti-itch creams. Check with your local pharmacist or doctor for additional information and help.

CONTROL IT – BREAK THE PARASITE’S LIFECYCLE

  • Since the larvae stage originates from the snail, reducing the snail population will go a long way to reducing or eliminating the problem.
  • Contact a wildlife organization to remove Muscovy ducks from the lake area – Muscovy ducks are an exotic species in Florida, are not protected and may be removed
  • Educate residents about the negative effects of feeding wildlife
  • Do not encourage birds to stay near swimming areas by feeding them

IF THE PROBLEM PERSISTS

  • Contact a qualified lake management company for an inspection and recommendation for controlling your lake’s Swimmer’s Itch problem

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This information is not intended to be used as medical advice, a diagnosis or treatment of any disease or health condition. If you have any health concerns regarding swimmer’s itch consult with your doctor or other health care provider.

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