TC & Cow Springs residents: protect yourself from swimmer's itch
This summer, lots of children are coming into the hospital with a rash called "swimmer's itch." All of them have been swimming in the local reservoirs in Tuba City and Cow Springs.
These reservoirs are unsafe for you and your children to swim in. This year, we know that the Tuba City reservoir and the Cow Springs reservoir are infected. The water can change from year to year, but this summer, we definitely have a problem.
What is Swimmer's Itch?
Swimmer's Itch is also called cercarial dermatitis (sir-care-ee-uhl der-muh-tight-iss). It is a skin rash from an allergic reaction to water contaminated with certain parasites. These tiny parasites are released from ducks, geese and other migratory birds, as well as some beavers and other swimming mammals and absorbed by snails into the water they live in. The snails then release a form of the parasite that looks for a host bird or mammal to infect- but if it finds you first, the parasite digs its way into a swimmer's skin, causing an allergic reaction and rash. Swimmer's itch is found throughout the world and is more frequent during summer months.
What are the signs of swimmer's itch?
Swimmer's itch can cause:
tingling, burning, or itching of the skin
small reddish pimples
Within minutes to days after swimming in contaminated water, tingling, burning or itching of the skin starts. Small reddish pimples may appear within 12 hours. Pimples may develop into small blisters.
This summer in Tuba City, children have been coming into the hospital with swimmer's itch a few days after playing in the reservoir at Tuba City or at Cow Springs. Most of the time, the rash has been appearing as large red 'welts' that are about as big as a nickel, are raised, red and very itchy. Most kids usually have about 30-40 of these spread all over the body.
Scratching the areas may lead to the rash getting infected. The rash will also go away on its' own, but it may take weeks.
The more often you swim or wade in contaminated water, the more likely you are to develop serious swimmer's itch. Even if you didn't get it the first time you went into the water, every time you swim in infected water, you are more likely to get a bad rash with severe itching, and it usually comes out sooner after swimming.
Some people don't get the rash the first time they swim in contaminated water -- even if other people that they swim with get the rash -- but they may get it the next time.
Do I need to see my doctor for treatment?
Most cases do not require seeing a doctor. If you have a rash, try the following to help the rash feel better:
Apply corticosteroid cream to the rash. (You can get 1 percent Hydrocortisone cream or ointment over the counter at any pharmacy or grocery store.)
Apply cool compresses to the rash. Take a bath in Epson salts or baking soda.
Soak in colloidal oatmeal baths, such as Aveeno*.
Apply baking soda paste to the rash (made by stirring water into baking soda until it becomes paste-like).
Use an anti-itch lotion, such as Calamine* lotion.
Try not to scratch the rash, though it may be difficult. Scratching may cause the rash to become infected. If itching becomes unbearable, your doctor may suggest prescription-strength lotions or creams to help ease the itching.
Can swimmer's itch be spread from person-to-person?
No, it cannot be spread from one person to another. You only get it if you swim in infected water.
Who is at risk for swimmer's itch?
Anyone who swims or wades in water contaminated with certain parasites is at risk. These parasites are more likely to live in shallow water by the shoreline where the snails live. Children are most often affected because they tend to swim, wade and play in the shallow water more than adults. Also, they are less likely to towel dry themselves when leaving the water.
What can I do to prevent getting Swimmer's Itch?
Do not swim in areas where swimmer's itch is a known problem or where signs have been posted warning of unsafe water.
Do not swim near or wade in marshy areas where snails are commonly found.
Towel dry or shower immediately after leaving the water.
Do not attract birds (e.g., by feeding them) to areas where people are swimming.
If you have any questions, please call TCRHCC at 1-888-264-9905.
(TCRHCC Wellness Committee is a group of healthcare providers, administrators and community members whose aim is to promote health and wellness. Its members are: Michelle Archuleta; Abdul-Aziz Baco; Trudy Billy; Brooke Holiday; Jane Dougherty-Lake, registered dietitian; Kristin Graziano, Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine; Diana Hu, MD; Stephanie Keahey; Joann Kim, MD; Amanda Leib, MD; Evie Maho; Robyn Maho-Laughter; Jane Oski, MD; Dorothy Sanderson, MD; Deirdra Scarborough, registered dietitian; and Ruby Whitethorne, RN.
The TCRHCC Wellness Committee would like to thank Dr. Bill Orman, Debi Farrell, RN and Angie Maloney for their review of this article.)