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What you should know about swimmer’s itch

Vilas County Health Department

Wisconsin is expected to heat up this week.

That means a lot of people will be heading to the lakes to cool off.

Swimmer’s itch occurs when tiny parasites in the water come into contact with the skin.

Rachael Cornelius acknowledges that that may sound scary. She’s the Vilas County Public Health Community health educator.

“It’s not like a dangerous thing. It cannot be spread from person to person. It’s just a visible rash on the body. It’s small little pustule or papules, if you will, that kind of at face value present on the skin as itchy,” she said.

It most often occurs in June and July.

The parasite is most often found in ducks or birds.

Cornelius says you can avoid getting it by staying out of parts of the water you know has a lot of duck activity.

While anyone can get swimmer’s itch, it most often occurs in children.

“Really just because they are the ones that tend to spend more time in the water, playing in those shallow water areas, playing by the water in and out. And the key component is letting that water dry on your body naturally or evaporate.”

Cornelius recommends towel drying as soon as you get out of the water and rinsing off with clean water as soon as you can.

“What can happen is when your body isn’t rid of that, it dries on your body, it allows that bacteria or parasite to then run its course which then you’ll develop the rash. Symptoms of that can be anywhere from a tingling sensation to itching of the skin, small reddish pimples. Those typically show up 12 to 24 hours and the itching may continue for several days,” he said.

There’s no cure for swimmer’s itch.

Cornelius says it will clear up on its own.

“You certainly can do over-the-counter things like a hydrocortisone cream, cool compresses kind of help soothe the rash. Epsom salt baths or baking soda baths are just kind of more comfort measures than anything.”

Swimmer’s itch can’t be passed from person to person.

You can learn more about it on the Vilas County Public Health Department website.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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