All posts in Morgellons Itchy Rash

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.


Tick season again – Western North Dakotans see a rise in parasitic pests this year

Tick season again – Western North Dakotans see a rise in parasitic pests this year


THEODORE ROOSEVELT NATIONAL PARK — Growing up in the area, John Heiser said he never saw as many wood ticks as he does now in the field.

These days, he said, he spots tons.

“There are more wood ticks now than I ever saw as a youngster,” Heiser said.

He is not alone. Many North Dakotans are already claiming this year’s tick season to be worse than previous years. It is reportedly easy to spot droves of them among the tall grass and in the woods, not to mention clinging to a person’s skin afterward.

Through latching onto and burrowing into a host’s skin, ticks can transmit diseases such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and anaplasma. According to the North Dakota Department of Health’s Center for Disease Control, at least 24 cases of tick-borne illnesses were reported in the state in 2014, while none have been reported yet this year.

In a recent survey of a 300-yard swath of land, Heiser said he was able to spot 74 of the parasites on grass and branches. This doesn’t count the additional 48 he found on his clothes when he was finished.

“That’s a lot of wood ticks,” Heiser said.

He said he has a theory that this year’s mild winter, along with above-average temperatures in March and April, are linked to the ticks’ rise in population.

Jessie Evoniuk, a veterinarian at the State Avenue Veterinary Clinic in Dickinson, said she had noticed a higher rate of pets with tick issues this year.

“We have had more complaints of ticks, in general,” Evoniuk said.

She said the clinic began issuing tick protection to its four-legged clients in April, which includes collars and topical ointments. It all depends on the pet’s lifestyle and location, she said.

Jeb Williams, the wildlife chief of North Dakota Game and Fish, said he had personally noticed ticks were a little more intense this year, pulling a good amount of them off his clothes whenever he steps out in the brush. He said he’s heard others report the same.

“You just get those observations from people,” Williams said.

He added that ticks are noticeable, especially during turkey hunting season, which opens in April each year. But, Williams said, it’s “something that you just deal with.”

Williams said that ticks, no matter how prevalent, won’t stop sportsmen from enjoying the outdoors. He said recreative people are well-versed in examining their clothes for ticks at the end of the day, and that they just have to continue to “do a little extra checking.”

Michelle Feist of the North Dakota Center for Disease Control gave some tips for protecting against tick bites, including wearing long clothing to cover the arms and legs and tucking in the openings. Appropriate repellant is also a good idea, she said.

Feist said the northeast area of the state has been found to have a higher concentration of deer ticks, which are the main transmitters of Lyme disease.

According to the North Dakota Department of Health website, any tick bites should be disinfected with alcohol or other disinfectant before the tick is removed. One should place tweezers on the tick as close to the skin as possible, squeezing so as not to burst its juices onto the bite area. The tick should then be pulled slowly and without twisting so that the mouthparts do not break off.

Once removed, the bite should be disinfected again, and the tick should be disposed of safely by placing it in a container of alcohol or flushing it down the toilet.


The mystery surrounding Morgellons disease

Those who suffer from the condition say symptoms include itchiness, fatigue and unusual skin fibers.

Those who suffer from Morgellons often say they feel alone and betrayed by a medical community that has dismissed their symptoms as nothing more than delusions. (Photo: Shutterstock)

Earlier this week, legendary singer Joni Mitchell was rushed to the hospital after fainting at her home in Bel Air, California. While still under observation by doctors, an update provided to fans said the 71-year-old is resting comfortably and that “she continues to improve and get stronger each day.”
What was not disclosed was the exact illness Mitchell is suffering from, leading to speculation that Morgellons disease, a health condition she’s spoken about in the past, might be responsible.
“I have this weird, incurable disease that seems like it’s from outer space,” she told the LA Times in 2010. “Fibers in a variety of colors protrude out of my skin like mushrooms after a rainstorm: they cannot be forensically identified as animal, vegetable or mineral. Morgellons is a slow, unpredictable killer — a terrorist disease: it will blow up one of your organs, leaving you in bed for a year.”
If that sounds like something awful that deserves more attention from the medical community, there are others out there suffering from similar symptoms who share your concern. Doctors, however, are split on what exactly Morgellons is, with some believing it is psychosomatic and others believing it’s a real unexplained condition, or even possibly a complication related to tick-borne illnesses.
In a 2012 study on Morgellons, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defined the disease as “a poorly characterized constellation of symptoms, with the primary manifestations involving the skin.” After finding no parasites or mycobacteria, the panel concluded that the symptoms were not caused by an infection or environmental agent, but may be associated with what’s termed a “delusional infestation.” The skin fibers collected during the study were found to have come from “environmental sources,” mainly composed of cotton. In a separate summary, the CDC determined that it would not “be helpful to perform additional testing for infectious diseases as a potential cause.”
Researchers involved in studying both tick-borne diseases and Morgellons conducted their own study in 2013 on the mysterious filaments that contradicted the CDC’s findings. After collecting fibers from a group of four patients with classic Morgellons symptoms, they exposed the filaments under an electron microscope and discovered them to be “keratin and collagen in composition” and originating from within the epidermis. It’s interesting to note that all four patients had also previously tested positive for Borrelia burgdorferi, a causative agent of Lyme disease.
Dr. Anne Louise Oaklander, a neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital who specializes in itches affecting the body, told the Guardian that whatever Morgellons is, those who have it are experiencing true discomfort.
“In my experience, Morgellons patients are doing the best they can to make sense of symptoms that are real. They’re suffering from a chronic itch disorder that’s undiagnosed. They have been maltreated by the medical establishment. And you are welcome to quote me on that,” she said.
As for Joni Mitchell, while it’s as-yet unclear whether Morgellons is responsible for her current condition, she has said in the past that she fully intends to do more to raise awareness about the disease.
“I’m a polio survivor, so I know how conservative the medical body can be,” she added to the LA Times. “In America, the Morgellons is always diagnosed as ‘delusion of parasites,’ and they send you to a psychiatrist. I’m actually trying to get out of the music business to battle for Morgellons sufferers to receive the credibility that’s owed to them.”