It’s that time of year again. A number of individuals are reporting that they have contracted Swimmer’s Itch after swimming in Copake Lake.
Swimmer’s itch, also known as cercarial dermatitis, is an irritating yet harmless rash caused by the human body’s reaction to a microscopic parasite found in warm, shallow water. These parasites are the tiny larvae of blood flukes, which are hosted by aquatic birds and snails. When the larvae are present in the lake they sometimes mistake us for hosts —which we are not — but they can burrow a tiny bit into our skin and cause an uncomfortable rash.
Anyone who swims or wades in water containing the parasite may be at risk. The conditions in which snails thrive are gravelly shores with wave action, so the potential for snails and swimmer’s itch is everywhere around the lake. Those swimming and/or water skiing in deeper water are less likely to come into contact with the parasite. Children are more likely to develop swimmer’s itch because they tend to spend time in shallow water and they are less likely to towel dry themselves after leaving the water.
Most cases of swimmer’s itch do not require medical attention. Avoid scratching the rash, as it may cause infection. If you have a rash, the CDC (the US health protection agency) recommends trying the following for relief:
This is not something that the CLCS is able to “fix” or “eliminate.” Our limnologist, George Knoecklein, has reached out to the DEC for additional information regarding this current outbreak in NYS waters. The best course of action for swimmers is to continue to educate themselves on how to avoid developing this rash.
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