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Residents experience swimmers’ itch from Lake Champlain

Residents experience swimmers’ itch from Lake Champlain

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A swim in Lake Champlain on a hot, late-summer day can cause many things: happiness, a sense of well-being, and for some people, an itchy rash. Over the last few weeks, at least a dozen swimmers in the Charlotte and Shelburne area, many at the Charlotte Beach, have experienced an unfortunate side-effect of enjoying the town’s lovely beach.

Swimmer’s itch, or cercarial dermatitis, is an allergic reaction to a parasite that thrives in certain conditions and can be found in lake water. Other than an ick factor, there is no danger or health concern from this parasite or rash. When the water is warm, a parasite can thrive in and attempt to burrow into people’s skin. Though the parasite cannot survive in humans, their burrowing can cause an allergic reaction, which manifests as a rash.

Neil Kamman, Program Manager at the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation Watershed Management Division, said, “Swimmer’s itch is actually the result of a naturally occurring parasitic organism that in its normal life cycle alternately inhabits snails, or the legs of swimming ducks. Thus, if you have snails (which are naturally occurring), and ducks (which are also naturally occurring), you may have the presence of swimmer’s itch.”

Kamman said that there is no office that regulates or tracks instances of this parasite, but that in extreme circumstances, control of one or the other of the host organisms could be warranted. He also said that in Lake Champlain, not much could be done to stop the parasite’s life cycle, but that perhaps not feeding the ducks and making the area less appealing to them might help.

The Charlotte Beach is a prime breeding ground for the parasite. Eric Howe, an environmental analyst and the Lake Champlain Basin Program Technical Coordinator, said people swimming in shallow, warm water that’s recently been visited by a large flock of ducks or geese, or is near a marshy area that also has a lot of snails, are most susceptible to intercepting the parasite as it passes through the snails and moves out into the water column.

Though there is no way to completely prevent the parasites from attempting to burrow into your skin, he recommends thoroughly toweling off immediately after getting out of the water, which removes the parasites from your skin. Both Howe and Kamman note that the parasite is not only common in Lake Champlain, but is found all over the world.

Though the rash is not contagious, and poses no long-term health issues, it is an itchy, uncomfortable condition. People afflicted can manage their symptoms with anti-itch cortisone cream, Benadryl, oatmeal baths, and other typical remedies for an uncomfortable rash. For more information about the parasites, or cercarial dermatitis, visit


Head lice myths and treatment

Head lice myths and treatment

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Do you feel something crawling along your scalp? Are you sure? What’s that itchy sensation on your head?

Head lice is one of the ickiest things you’re likely to find on someone’s noggin, and one that many families will face as children head back to school. They will also likely face many myths about the blood-sucking parasites.

One that’s making the rounds is the theory put out by a couple of U.S. doctors that teenagers are spreading lice thanks to putting their heads together for selfies.

“I think they’ve forgotten their own teenage years. Teens like being together in close proximity doing other things than selfies,” said Dr. Raj Bhardwaj, adding lice don’t move that quickly.

He also threw cold water on the idea that lice would migrate from one’s head to a hat or toque, although if someone he knew had lice offered him a head cover, he’d “politely decline despite the scientific evidence.”

Head lice are a picky species, adapting to become a strictly human parasite that only settles for blood sucked from a scalp.

“They have evolved over millennia to be very specific human parasites. So they don’t infest dogs or cats or any other kind of animal — it’s only humans. And not only that, it’s only human heads. There are body lice and pubic lice, which are different subspecies,” said Bhardwaj.

There’s also not a sudden metamorphosis into some kind of super mutant being, despite some social media accounts.

That said, the parasites have been evolving thanks to the natural selection tied to our chemical warfare — we kill them off, so only those who survive the treatments reproduce.

What to do?

So if you do feel like something is skittering across your head (itching comes later if untreated), the best thing to do is look at treatments based on silicone that attack the exoskeleton of lice, or to go old fashioned and go through your hair, or your child’s hair, with a fine toothed comb.

“Do the physical labour of getting this out,” said Bhardwaj. “It’s really gross and it takes a lot of time and your kids have to be patient and you have to be patient and you have to do it more than once.”

And what about keeping your kid out of school for seven days if they have lice?

“Absolutely not, no,” said Bhardwaj, adding you should change their behaviour to reduce contact with classmates.


Parasitic pox: Swimmer’s itch; where it lurks, how to prevent it

Parasitic pox: Swimmer’s itch; where it lurks, how to prevent it


SOUTHERN UTAH – If you’re like many people, there is nothing more inviting on a hot summer day than taking a drive out to the lake and dipping into the glistening water … except for one irritating parasite in some waters that thrives and writhes when the shallows get warm, resulting in swimmer’s itch, an irritating and sometimes painful skin rash caused by microscopic parasites.

Swimmer’s itch is not life-threatening and there are preventive measures you can take allowing you to enjoy the water.

“Not everyone gets the swimmers itch but my poor son did ..,” Sonja Ceja wrote in a comment thread on St. George News Facebook page June 13, 2014 | Photo courtesy of Sonja Ceja, St. George News
“Not everyone gets the swimmers itch but my poor son did ..,” Sonja Ceja wrote in a comment thread on St. George News Facebook page June 13, 2014 | Photo courtesy of Sonja Ceja, St. George News

What is Swimmer’s Itch?

The Centers for Disease Control describes swimmer’s itch, or “cercaria,” as a skin rash that is caused by an allergic reaction to microscopic parasites that are carried by waterfowl, semi-aquatic mammals and snails.

As a part of their life cycle, these parasites are released by infected snails into the water. This is where they come in contact with people and burrow into their skin, causing an allergic reaction and rash.

Swimmer’s itch is found throughout the world and is more frequent during summer months.

The good news is, because these larvae cannot develop inside a human, they soon die. Your body’s immune system detects the organism as a foreign protein, then attacks and kills it shortly after it penetrates your skin. The itching and welts are not caused by the organism living under your skin, but by an allergic reaction.

While some people may show no symptoms of swimmer’s itch, others swimming at the same time and place may break out severely. And, much like poison ivy, your sensitivity to swimmer’s itch will increase with each exposure.

Swimmer’s itch cannot be spread from person-to-person, and a swimmer is highly unlikely to get swimmer’s itch from a swimming pool as long as the pool is well maintained and chlorinated.

Where is Swimmer’s Itch active?

Swimmer’s Itch is currently active at Sand Hollow Reservoir.

Water at Sand Hollow reached 80 degrees Monday, making it prime environment for the free-swimming microscopic parasite to flourish; that, and the surrounding alkaline soil, Department of Natural Resources Park Manager Laura Melling said.

The park asks people experiencing swimmer’s itch to report it to park staff at the entrance station. Over the last three weeks, Melling said, she had two cases reported, then five to seven cases, and then two more just since Sunday. But, she said, it’s early. And these don’t account for those who develop the itch after they leave the park or don’t report it.

The parasite lives in shallow water, but the more boats and watercraft are stirring up the lake, the more the parasites are carried throughout the lake. It’s not uncommon for there to be 500 boats on the lake some days, Melling said.

“We run over 22,000 boats through the park a year,” Melling said, “I have a morning crowd, a noon crowd, an afternoon and evening crowd; they come for a couple hours then they leave.”

Neighboring Quail Creek Reservoir does not experience many swimmer’s itch complaints because the water is slightly more acidic which naturally repels the parasite. There have been one or two reported cases of swimmer’s itch from Quail, Melling said, but only when people were up at the top where the springs come into the lake and all the trees grow.

A reliable indication of the parasite is whether or not cattails can be found growing around the water.  Where there are cattails, Melling said, there are swimmer’s itch parasites.

Preventive measures

There are things you can do to reduce your odds of getting swimmer’s itch.

Stapley Pharmacy, in downtown St. George, 102 E. City Center Street, and in the Dino Crossing mall at 446 S. Mall Drive, carries a swimmer’s itch cream used as a preventive measure. The cream is a zinc oxide-type cream that serves as a protective barrier, Pharmacist Brett Petersen said.

“It’s a preventative,” Petersen said. “You apply it before you go in the water – to any skin that will be in the water for more than five minutes.  … If you’re going to be out in the water, you need to reapply after about 90 minutes for it to be effective.”

The Swimmer’s Itch cream is also a sunscreen. An eight-ounce jar costs $17.99.

Other measures:

  • Do not swim in areas where swimmer’s itch is a known problem or where signs have been posted warning of unsafe water
  • Do not swim near or wade in marshy areas where snails are commonly found
  • Do not attract birds to areas where people are swimming by feeding them
  • Apply sunscreen lotion before going in the water — not the spray on kind which is too thin to deter the parasite
  • Towel dry or shower immediately after leaving the water
  • When you get out of the lake, don’t let the water evaporate off your skin. The organism in the droplets of water on your skin will look for somewhere to go as the droplet of water evaporates

Symptoms of the itch

Symptoms of swimmer’s itch may include: tingling, burning or itching of the skin, small reddish pimples or small blisters.

“Within minutes to days after swimming in contaminated water, you may experience tingling, burning, or itching of the skin,” according to the CDC website. “Small reddish pimples appear within twelve hours. Pimples may develop into small blisters.”

Even though itching may last up to a week or more, and will gradually go away, it’s important to remember not to scratch the itch. Scratching the infected areas may result in secondary bacterial infections.

Treating the itch

There are several over the counter remedies your pharmacist can recommend to help relieve the discomfort, but see your physician for a definitive diagnosis.

Most cases of swimmer’s itch do not require medical attention, according to the CDC. If you have a rash, you may try the following for relief:

  • Use corticosteroid cream
  • Apply cool compresses to the affected areas
  • Bathe in Epsom salts or baking soda
  • Soak in colloidal oatmeal baths
  • Apply baking soda paste to the rash – made by stirring water into baking soda until it reaches a paste-like consistency
  • Use an anti-itch lotion
  • Besides anti-itch creams or lotions like hydrocortisone, Petersen recommended taking Benadryl, an over-the-counter antihistimine.

“If we can prevent it,” Petersen said, “that’s the best.”

St. George News Editor-in-Chief Joyce Kuzmanic and reporter Hollie Reina contributed to this report.