What is swimmers itch you ask? It is also referred to as cercarial dermatitis. It is a skin condition caused by either an allergic reaction or infection from a parasite found in birds and mammals. The tiny parasite is expelled from infected snails in salt and fresh water areas such as ponds, lakes and even the ocean. It is an infection that is found throughout the world and is commonly seen during the summer months, particularly the later part of May to early June.
Tingling, burning, and itching skin may appear in a matter of minutes after swimming in the water. Red pimples usually occur within 12 hours after being infected. The pimples may turn into blisters. The itching can last for a week on up to several weeks but usually never requires medical intervention. The condition usually clears up on its own gradually. The itching is caused by an allergic reaction to the infection so the more an individual swims in the infected water, the worse the condition and symptoms become.
To treat the symptoms, anti-itch creams can be used as can bathing in baking soda, making baking soda paste to apply to the pimples or blisters and using Calamine lotion. Compresses can also be quite helpful.
Adult parasites live on the blood of infected animals which are usually ducks, geese, gulls and swans. Beavers and muskrats also can be carriers. The parasites make eggs in which the infected bird or mammal passes in their feces. If the eggs land in water, it quickly becomes contaminated. Swimmers itch happens when the snail mistakenly penetrates an individuals skin instead of the intended host which is usually a duck.
Swimmers itch has been reported in every country in the world. Public pool laws do not require them to report cases of swimmers itch. Swimmers itch is often confused with impetigo, chicken pox, herpes and other rare skin conditions. It rarely requires medical attention.
There are a few things a swimmer can do to minimize the chance of contracting swimmers itch which are avoiding areas to swim in which have had reported cases of the condition as well as areas where there is quite a bit of onshore wind. Drying off immediately after getting out of the water can also be helpful.