Tips to avoid swimmer’s itch
By Jenn Watt
Published Aug. 21, 2018
The heat of summer 2018 has made the county’s cool lakes look especially enticing. Public beaches and private waterfronts are favourite haunts when temperatures climb.
Unfortunately, sometimes those places are also home to a parasite that causes swimmer’s itch, a skin rash that causes itching and redness, which can last for several days.
While the rash is uncomfortable, it will clear up on its own. However, health officials caution that swimmer’s itch can have a similar appearance to other skin issues.
“In general the signs and symptoms of swimmer’s itch are self clearing, but if we do get a call from the public regarding this disease, we do recommend to consult the medical practitioner because [first], the rash from swimmer’s itch is identical to rashes from other diseases like heat rash, allergic plant reaction, shingles or some skin eczema. [And second,] we as public health inspectors [can] recommend but cannot treat a person for a disease,” said Dharminder Kaler, public health inspector with Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit.
“Of course, if a person is worried about their symptoms, in pain or otherwise concerned, and the symptoms do not go away, they should consult their physician or doctor.”
The parasite that causes the rash is called Shistosomes and is found in the water around aquatic snails.
“The parasite penetrates the skin in people swimming or wading in the infected water,” a fact sheet from the health unit says. “These parasites stay in the skin and die, causing an allergic reaction (itch) in some people.”
The health unit does not test for the parasite, so it’s not known which beaches are more prone to the issue. There is also no known schedule of when it’s safer to swim.
“The presence of the organisms in natural waters is dependent upon a number of factors, both biological and environmental. As a result, it is very difficult to predict when and where swimmer’s itch might become a problem,” Health Canada’s website reads.
Swimmer’s itch is a common issue, particularly among children.
“It is estimated that about one-third of the individuals who come in contact with the parasite will develop swimmer’s itch. People of all ages can be infected, but children are most commonly infected due to the fact that they play or swim in the shallow water where the snails collect and the parasite is most likely to be found,” the health unit says.
Symptoms include a tingling sensation followed by itching. The skin may develop small red pimples or blisters. Anti-itch lotions may be used to lessen the symptoms.
The health unit says the best way to avoid swimmer’s itch is to swim away from the shoreline and steer clear of areas with lots of snails.
“If possible, have a shower with clean water as soon as you leave the lake or rub your skin with a rough towel as soon as you get out of the water. Be sure to dry off completely with the towel. If water is left to dry on the skin, there is a greater likelihood of developing swimmer’s itch.”
For more information, visit the health unit’s website at hkpr.on.ca.