Summer swimmers less itchy than usual? Tips for avoiding the rash

SOUTHERN UTAH – Good news for swimmers looking to dive into nearby waters this summer:  They may be a bit less itchy than usual.

Laura Melling, park manager for Quail Creek and Sand Hollow State Parks, said few incidents of swimmer’s itch have been reported so far this summer.

“We’ve had very few reports this year. On Saturday, I had about 15,000 people through here and had six cases reported. Three were itching without a rash—could be a reaction to the sun or dry skin, and the other four I didn’t personally see,” Melling said.

Swimmer’s itch is the human body’s allergic reaction to a free-swimming microscopic parasite called cercarial that lives in shallow water. It is found throughout the world and is more frequent during summer months.

Signs and symptoms of swimmer’s itch

  • Tingling, burning or itching of the skin
  • Small reddish pimples
  • Small blisters

Symptoms can occur within minutes after leaving infected water, or hours in some cases. The small reddish pimples will typically appear within 12 hours. These pimples can then turn into small blisters. Scratching the infected area can lead to secondary infections. The itching can last a week or more, but will generally go away in about three days. All symptoms usually do not last longer than a week or two.

“It exists. The reality of my research through the health department is that 7 percent of the public will have a reaction,” Melling said. “It’s like with kids that get the measles, most don’t get them again. But there are some people that never build up an antibody to swimmer’s itch and get it every year. It’s an irritant that is miserable.”

Melling has a few solutions to prevent swimmers itch: “Put on bug repellant and waterproof sun block and dry off when you get out of the water because this is a parasite that moves from fish to water fowl to fish, and that’s how it moves around from lake to lake,” she said. “The parasite tries to burrow into human skin which it can’t do, so it irritates people.”

What local dermatologists say

Greg Jacobsen, dermatologist at Southwest Skin and Cancer Institute said, “This is the time of year – June, July, August – when there is a local outbreak, we see quite a bit of it. We’ve seen a half-dozen (cases) so far this year. It’s common. Most people don’t come in for it anymore because they already know what it is.”

Treatment methods

  • Soak in colloidal oatmeal baths
  • Bathe in Epson salts or baking soda
  • Corticosteroid (anti-itch) cream
  • Cool compress to the affected area
  • Use an anti-itch lotion
  • Apply baking soda paste to the rash

Is medical attention necessary?

Swimmer’s itch is not tracked by the health department because it is not a life-threatening condition. Most cases do not require medical attention, but if symptoms persist after two weeks, contact your doctor.

Melling said people shouldn’t worry or be discouraged from swimming in potentially infected waters. “This is not a health issue. This is nature,” she said. “It’s part of the food chain. Go for a swimming pool if it bothers you, because there is no such thing as a paradise without flaws.”

Additional information on swimmer’s itch can be found on the Sand Hollow State Park website.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @sarahisaacson1

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2013, all rights reserved.

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  • RJeppson June 17, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    this is miserable! My daughter gets “the itch” every time we go to Sand Hollow and swim off the beach(we don’t go anymore). We all swim together and she will be the only one to get it… looks like Chicken pox. We were there for 10 minutes the last time and had to leave she was so itchy. Its a bummer too cause we would like to continue to swim there.. o’well.

  • Doug June 17, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    “We’ve had very few reports this year. On Saturday, I had about 15,000 people through here and had six cases reported. Three were itching without a rash—could be a reaction to the sun or dry skin, and the other four I didn’t personally see,” Melling said.

    I don’t have any words for this except someone needs to take a math class. Ha ha!

  • jw June 17, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    My son had it terrible!!! We used cloraseptic spray on his bites, (his whole back and stomach, legs and arms). It worked well to keep the itching down. Now he has scarred patches that we hope will fade. They are a dark brown. YUCKY

  • Ted Recupero June 17, 2013 at 8:55 pm

    We spent 4 hours in the water at Sand Hollow on Sunday. We’re divers, and we ended up w/ a rash around our faces, were the hood/mask line is. I can live with it, but it is annoying.

  • Stetson Crandall June 18, 2013 at 10:43 am

    6 people? Me and my 3 nephews all got it. I was itchy for about 10 days, had them only on my legs. It’s been over two weeks and the reddish pimples are still present… One of the most irritating things I have experienced.

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