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Health officials warn of 'swimmer's itch' in Utah lakes and ponds

Posted at 5:28 PM, Jul 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-08 19:28:03-04

SALT LAKE CITY — One local health department is warning residents of swimmer's itch infestation at two northern Utah lakes and ponds. The parasite that causes the rash can be more prevalent during times of high heat and drought.

The Bear River Health Department is asking the public to avoid swimming in the Mantua Reservoir and 'The Pond' at Willard Bay.

Ben Harker with the Bear River Health Department said the extreme heat and drought impacting 98 percent of the state could be a contributing factor to an increase in infestations.

"Hot temperatures and shallow waters seem to increase the likelihood of it," he said.

Swimmer's itch is caused by a microscopic parasite found in many water birds.

"It's looking for a different host than humans, but if humans are there then it can burrow into the skin causing that rash which itches, thus swimmer's itch," Harker added.

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The bird passes the parasite's eggs through its feces, and it is then consumed by water snails, which again passes them through its feces and the mature parasite can then burrow in the skin causing an allergic reaction ranging from mild to severe.

"You hear different reports of small reddish pimples, small blisters, tingling, burning, and itching of the skin," Harker said,

He added that the parasite and rash themselves are typically not harmful to humans, but it's best to avoid touching or scratching the rash as it could lead to bigger problems.

"If you were to scratch it and you were to get a secondary bacterial infection as a result of that, then that could be something you might need to get medical attention for," Harker said.

The best way to avoid swimmer's itch is to avoid swimming in affected lakes or ponds, but it can be difficult for the state to keep on top of which bodies of water have active infestations. Harker recommends taking a few steps any time you swim in a shallow body of water.

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"At least towel dry afterwards," he said. "Or even better if you can shower right afterwards those things can help prevent it."

If you do find yourself with the rash, Harker said over the counter anti-itch lotions and avoiding scratching are the best ways to treat it.

"As long as you don't get that secondary bacteriological infection it should go away on its own over time," he added.

Affected lakes and ponds typically have signage posted warning people of infected waters, but Harker said to check local health department websites for active warnings before you head out.