Swimmer’s itch: What you need to know before you hit the water

Local News
Swimmer-s Itch Returns To Sand Hollow State Park_02348631-159532

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

As you hit the water, health officials are reminding Utahns that, with warmer months comes swimmer’s itch.

Sand Hollow State Park has already received several reports of swimmer’s itch. The Utah Department of Health warns other state parks and water bodies have the potential to have swimmer’s itch. Officials say to be aware of any warning signs at the entrance gates or boat ramps before entering the water.

Anyone who swims or wades in infested water is at risk of getting swimmer’s itch, but the larvae are more likely to be in shallow water by the shoreline. 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 irritating rash caused by your body’s allergic reaction to a free-swimming microscopic parasite – cercarial – found in shallow water. UDOH explains the parasites are released into both fresh and salt water sources.

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

Humans are not suitable hosts for the larvae, meaning it will die and not spread.

What are the symptoms of swimmer’s itch?

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

  • Tingling, burning, or itching of the skin (can occur within minutes or days)
  • Small, reddish pimples (occurs within 12 hours)
  • Small blisters (May occur after the pimples appear)

UDOH reports less than 7% of the population is affected by swimmer’s itch and, of those that are, most build an antibody after one reaction and do not experience symptoms again.

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

Do I need to seek medical treatment?

The term ‘allergic reaction’ may alarm you, but UDOH says most cases of swimmer’s itch do not require medical attention.

If you experience a fever or other severe symptoms though, 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 cool compress to the affected areas
  • Bathe in Epsom salts or baking soda

While it may be difficult, UDOH encourages to not scratch, because it may cause the rash to become infected. If itching is severe, a healthcare provider may suggest prescription-strength lotions or creams.

How to reduce the risk of swimmer’s itch

UDOH offers these tips to reduce the risk of getting the irritating rash:

  • Don’t swim in areas where swimmer’s itch is a known problem or where signs have been posted warning of unsafe water
  • Don’t swim or wade in marshy areas where snails are commonly found
  • Towel dry or shower immediately after leaving the water
  • Don’t attract birds – by feeding them, for example – to areas where people swim
  • Wear sunblock or petroleum jelly when swimming in areas prone to swimmer’s itch

A swimming pool will likely not cause swimmer’s itch if it is well maintained and chlorinated.

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