What is Swimmer’s Itch?
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), Swimmer’s Itch is a skin rash caused by an allergic reaction to certain parasites. It is found throughout the world and is more frequent during the summer months.
Where does Swimmer’s Itch come from?
To understand where Swimmer’s Itch comes from, we first have to understand the parasite that causes this condition. The parasites that cause Swimmer’s Itch go through different lifestyle stages, or metamorphosis, like that of a Monarch butterfly. During these different stages, the parasites prefer certain hosts, and humans are not one of them. In this case, the parasites start their life cycle in a preferred bird and/or mammal where they lay their eggs. The eggs are then released into a body of water where they will grow to their next stage and find a specific species of snails (the species that causes the greatest problem in the northern United States is Stagnicola, which are not uncommon) to be their next host. From there, the parasites grow to their next stage, and leave the snail to get back to their preferred bird and/or mammal host. At this point, in the cycle, is when humans can get Swimmer’s Itch as the parasites find humans versus their preferred host.
What can be done to prevent getting Swimmer's Itch?
There are several steps that can be taken to help reduce the likelihood of developing Swimmer’s Itch:
Choose swimming spots carefully – Avoid swimming in areas where Swimmer’s Itch is a known problem or signs are posted warning of possible contamination; avoid swimming or wading in marshy areas where snails are commonly found; and avoid swimming near the shoreline, if possible (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 completely dry your skin with a towel (changing out of your swimwear as soon as possible is important).
Skip the breadcrumbs – Don't feed birds on docks, or near swimming areas, as they can carry the parasites that cause Swimmer’s Itch.
Apply waterproof sunscreen – Waterproof sunscreen has been reported to protect the skin from the parasites that cause Swimmer’s Itch.
Apply Swimmer’s Itch Guard – Have your swimmers apply this preventative gel before swimming in the pond (https://www.swimmersitchguard.com).
Complete a copper sulfate treatment – Completing a copper sulfate treatment in the beach area a few days before swimming will kill any snails in the area, thus removing the host of the parasite. We usually do not like to use copper sulfate, because of its impact on a pond’s ecosystem, but we can mitigate the negative impacts by adding our copper metabolizing bacteria after completing the copper sulfate treatment.
Technically, all of the above options are ‘Band-Aids’ for Swimmer’s Itch. Besides making sure there are no snails in the entire pond, there is no way of completely removing the risk of catching Swimmer’s Itch. We have rarely seen Swimmer’s Itch, in aerated ponds which are being proactively managed, but there are no guarantees.
If you would like to learn more about Swimmer’s Itch, here is a link that helps explain the life cycle in more detail – http://swimmersitchsolutions.com/lifecycle.