Lake Ecology & Preservation

Swimmer Itch -schistosomes (Shiss-toe-soams)
Swimmer's itch is an unpleasant, itchy rash caused by small worm-like parasites, called schistosomes (Shiss-toe-soams). These little worms are found in many lakes and ponds, usually in the warm summer months when beaches are most heavily used. Schistosomes have a complicated life cycle. They spend part of their life as parasites in the bodies of water snails, and part of their life living in the blood stream of aquatic mammals, ducks or other waterfowl.

A person gets Swimmers' Itch when larval parasites (flatworms) penetrate into the skin of sensitive individuals and die, causing an allergic reaction. Human penetration by the parasite is accidental, as the flatworm ordinarily penetrates a bird to complete its life cycle.

Reddened spots, called papules, form on the body within hours after exposure and will itch intensely for several days before subsiding. After approximately 1 week, the symptoms usually disappear. In severe cases, a person can develop a fever, become nauseated and spend several sleepless nights.

Over-the-counter drugs are available to reduce the effects of Swimmers' Itch.
Antihistamines can be used to help relieve the itching while topical steroid creams may help to reduce the swelling. Before taking any of these drugs, however, consult your physician or dermatologist for advice. There are a number of steps you can take which may reduce some of the itchiness. Your doctor or pharmacist can recommend the best treatment.

Commonly recommended treatments are:
Avoid scratching. Apply anti-itch lotion (i.e. Calamine lotion, Eurax cream, Caladryl cream). Take antihistamines (especially at bedtime). Take shallow (3 inch) lukewarm baths with 3 tablespoons of Baking Soda in the water, Apply cool compresses.

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