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'Swimmer's itch' reported in Montana lake

Health Watch MTN
Posted at 10:28 AM, Jul 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-07-26 12:28:46-04

GREAT FALLS - Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks (FWP) said in a news release that it has received reports of people getting swimmer's itch at Bean Lake.

Swimmer’s itch appears as a skin rash caused by an allergic reaction to certain microscopic parasites that infect some birds and mammals.

It's more frequent during summer months and is more likely to be present in shallow water by the shoreline.

Most cases of swimmer’s itch do not require medical attention.

Bean Lake, Montana

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention says:

Swimmer’s itch, also called cercarial dermatitis, appears as a skin rash caused by an allergic reaction to certain microscopic parasites that infect some birds and mammals. These parasites are released from infected snails into fresh and salt water (such as lakes, ponds, and oceans). While the parasite’s preferred host is the specific bird or mammal, if the parasite comes into contact with a swimmer, it burrows into the skin causing an allergic reaction and rash.

FWP said that anyone who swims or wades in infested water may be at risk. Children are most often affected because they tend to swim, wade, and play in the shallow water more than adults.

To reduce the risk of swimmer's itch:

  • Choose swimming spots carefully. Avoid swimming in areas where swimmer's itch is a known problem or signs warn of possible contamination. Also avoid swimming or wading in marshy areas where snails are commonly found.
  • Avoid the shoreline, if possible. If you're a strong swimmer, head to deeper water for your swim. You may be more likely to develop swimmer's itch if you spend a lot of time in warmer water near the shore.
  • Rinse after swimming. Rinse exposed skin with clean water immediately after leaving the water, then vigorously dry your skin with a towel. Launder your swimsuits often.
  • Skip the bread crumbs. Don't feed birds on docks or near swimming areas.
  • Apply waterproof sunscreen. This has been reported to protect the skin from the parasite that causes swimmer's itch.

For more details, visit the CDC website, which also includes this information:

Most cases of swimmer’s itch do not require medical attention. 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

Can swimmer’s itch be spread from person-to-person?
  • Swimmer’s itch is not contagious and cannot be spread from one person to another.