Swimmer's itch proves to be impossible to scratch

There have been only a few cases of reported swimmer’s itch this summer, but the Kitsap County Health District is warning swimmers not to drop their guard.

The possibility of contracting swimmer’s itch always exists in Kitsap County’s favorite swimming spots and swimmers should always take the proper precautions, said Stuart Whitford, the water quality manager for the health district.

Swimmer’s itch is a skin rash caused by bird and mammal parasites (like those found in duck feces) in lakes and streams.

The health district tests beaches with public access swimming areas, lakes and streams for the parasites that cause swimmer’s itch about twice a month in the summer months. The health district looks for E. coli bacteria, which confirms there is feces in the water. If it is found, the health district puts up signs on the beaches to warn the public.

The skin rash occurs when the water dries on the skin and the parasites die on the skin, Whitford said.

So far this summer, swimmer’s itch has been reported at Kitsap Lake, Island Lake, Horseshoe Lake and Long Lake.

Swimmer’s itch is predominately a warm weather problem.

Swimmer’s itch causes a burning, itching sensation on the skin anywhere from a few minutes to a few days after swimming in contaminated water, according to the Center for Disease Control’s Division of Parasitic Diseases. The rash looks like small, red pimples and usually appears within 12 hours of the itching.

The pimples sometimes turn into blisters, and the itching may last for up to a week, but eventually will go away . The symptoms get more severe if the swimmer continues swimming in the contaminated water, according to the DPD. Swimmer’s itch can be contracted in both fresh and salt water.

“If you get it, see a doctor and get it confirmed,” Whitford said.

Swimmer’s itch should be treated the same as chicken pox, which includes using oatmeal baths, Calamine lotion and cool compresses, Whitford said.

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