IDAHO FALLS, Idaho — Eastern Idaho Public Health wants to make sure people enjoying Idaho’s lakes and rivers aren’t getting more than they bargained for when they head home.
It’s called cercarial dermatitis, more commonly known as “swimmer’s itch,” according to the Center for Disease Control, and can turn a fun outing to the lake into days of scratching and itching as the parasite waits in stagnant bodies of water for it’s chance to stow away on a snail or bird. But, every now and again, the parasite finds a nearby swimmer to attach to instead.
“It’s fairly common in outdoor bodies of water, especially in shallow areas that are stagnant, like in lakes or ponds, sometimes rivers and areas where the water’s not flowing too much,” Mike Taylor, surveillance epidemiologist at Eastern Idaho Public Health, told KID NewsRadio. “It has a life cycle in there, between birds and snails, and that little parasite goes around and around between those two animals, but sometimes when we go playing in the water and and get involved in that cycle, the parasite will get onto our skin.”
The resulting effect is small, itchy, red bumps as the parasite burrows into human skin and spreads. While swimmer’s itch is certainly far from fatal and certainly poses few, if any, major health risks, Taylor said dealing with the skin irritation can be difficult.
“It’s not even an illness, but it’s just that parasite, that’s kid of irritating, aggravating that top surface of the skin,” Taylor said. “But again, it’s a pretty minor thing. It’s no fun to have.”
But, Taylor said, weary swimmer’s and water-goers don’t need to cancel their next trip to the lake even if it’s known to be a hot spot for swimmer’s itch.
“If one place has it not necessarily for certain that they’ll be that parasite in that area the whole summer,” Taylor said. “Typically we see…in the shallow areas, the warmer areas and then a lot of times it’s with kids that are maybe sitting and splashing in those areas and hanging out in that shallow warm water for a length a time.”
Taylor also said avoiding swimmer’s itch is as easy to employing some more preventative habits like moving around instead of sitting in stagnant, warm water and toweling off instead of letting the sun do the drying.
“As long as you take proper precautions and stay where where the water [is] not as shallow, like really shallow, you know, like just a few inches shallow, and then just make sure to keep moving in the water, which most people do, and then toweling off really, really helps prevent that.”