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Beware of swimmer's itch

The Antrim Review of Bellaire, Michigan

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CHARLEVOIX — As the summer heats up, tourists and residents alike are flocking to Antrim County's lakes, ponds, and rivers. Many will spend their days swimming, splashing, fishing, and boating without consequence, but some may face the wrath of "swimmer's itch".

Cercarial dermatitis, commonly known as "swimmer's itch," is a skin rash caused by parasites found in local lakes and rivers. After people swim or wade in these waters, they may become covered in itchy red bumps or blisters. The condition is caused by a reaction to microscopic parasites that are released from infected snails into the water. If the parasite comes into contact with a swimmer, it burrows into the skin the good news? Although it sounds unpleasant, swimmer's itch doesn't typically require medical attention, according to Joshua Meyerson, M.D., Medical Director for the Health Department.

"Swimmer's itch is common in many parts of the world," Meyerson said. "A topical hydrocortisone cream, an antihistamine like Benadryl, or cool baths with baking soda or oatmeal can help soothe the itch. It's important to avoid scratching the itchy rash, to prevent a secondary infection."

The doctor recommended that lake swimmers towel off quickly and thoroughly after leaving the water, to minimize any possible effects. Showering upon leaving the water is also helpful. Children may need extra help with toweling and showering to avoid swimmer's itch. Meyerson added that swimmer's itch is not contagious, and the parasites do not live in swimming pools that are properly maintained and chlorinated.

Additionally, the presence of swimmer's itch does not make a swimming area unsafe. While the Health Department monitors public beaches in Northwest Michigan for the presence of E.coli bacteria, a much more serious threat that can lead to beach closures, beaches are not closed based on reports of swimmer's itch.

Results from the Health Department's beach monitoring can be found on the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Web site at

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Original Publication Date: July 16, 2015

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