August 12, 2020

Swimmers Itch

We wanted to share that we have now had multiple reported potential cases of swimmers itch from using the beach area recently, and wanted to answer some frequently asked questions about swimmers itch.

What is swimmers itch and where does it come from?
Swimmer’s itch is a rash caused by an allergic reaction to the larvae of certain parasites. The parasites can get under your skin when you swim. The tiny parasites infect birds or mammals and lay eggs. Bird and mammal droppings that contain the eggs get into lakes and ponds. The eggs hatch into larvae, which then infect snails. The snails in turn release the larvae into the water, where the larvae look for a host. If they come in contact with people, the parasites can burrow under the skin. This causes an allergic reaction and a rash. But the larvae can’t survive in humans, so the parasites die. As a result, the rash usually goes away on its own and doesn’t need treatment. The rash can’t be spread from person to person. The risk of swimmers itch is also much higher in shallow areas, or areas with weeds.

Can I get swimmers itch in Lake Summerside, and can this occur every year?
Yes. There is always the potential to get swimmers itch in Lake Summerside. Because the cycle is often started by birds, there is always the potential for swimmers itch in many Alberta water bodies, including ours. Even in years with less bird traffic such as this summer, the potential always exists for swimmers itch. Though it’s typically rare, there is always the potential for it to occur, and we usually have a few reports of potential cases each year.

If swimmers itch is in the water, how long does it last and how likely is it that someone will get it?
Our biologists have let us know that each cycle is very short, but it is very unpredictable. Because of the bird- snail cycle it’s difficult to know if areas have it, and what specific areas do at what time. It can very much be ‘wrong place at the wrong time’ in the water.

What can, and what is the SSRA doing about it?
Unfortunately because of the natural cycle of swimmers itch, and the limited ability to control birds, our options for controlling swimmers itch are also limited. However some options are highlighted below.

  • Bird Control – our ability is limited because of their protected species status.
  • Treating Water with Copper Sulphate –This can kill off swimmers itch, but also kills off other aquatic life including fish. Our team of biologists have recommended against the use of copper sulphate treatments at this time.
  • Snail Removal – This has the potential to help. We are bringing our contracted Dive Team in next week to attempt to manually remove snails in and around the swim area
  • Weed Removal – ongoing. The SSRA prioritizes manual weed removal in the beach and swimming area.
  • Inform those using the beach on check- in that there have been reported cases of potential swimmers itch. We had already started this previously.

Will these actions remove the threat of swimmers itch entirely?
No. Though the actions we are taking have the potential to lower the risk of swimmers itch, as previously stated, there is always going to be a risk of swimmers itch while using the lake.

What can I do to protect myself?
Avoid or minimize time in shoreline areas with very shallow water, especially when wind is blowing in that direction. Also avoid weedy areas. A few other things you can do:

  • Rinse off, and towel off vigorously when leaving the water, and at frequent intervals.
  • There have been some reports that the use of waterproof sunscreen may help prevent swimmers itch.
  • Never feed birds or leave garbage or crumbs in the area. An increase in birds can increase the risk of swimmers itch for everyone.

What should I do if I have potentially gotten swimmers itch from Lake Summerside?
Please report it to us directly. We constantly share information about our lake with our team of biologists for their recommendations, so reporting these cases to us is very important.