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SWIMMER’S ITCH

- Health Unit Urges Precautions for People Swimming in Area Waterways to Reduce Their Risk of Illness -

If you’re swimming in a local lake or river this summer, take precautions to reduce your risk of a water illness that can surface without warning.

The Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit notes that a condition called Swimmer’s Itch can make a trip to the beach memorable for all the wrong reasons. Swimmer’s Itch is caused by a parasite called Schistosomes, which commonly affects birds, semi-aquatic mammals, and snails. The parasite can penetrate the skin of people who swim in water infested with Schistosomes, typically in areas of shallow water located close to shore. These invisible parasites burrow under the skin and quickly die, causing an allergic reaction (Swimmer’s Itch) in about one-third of people who come in contact with the parasites.

“Swimmer’s Itch can affect people of all ages, but children are most often affected since they play or swim in the shallow water where snails collect and the parasite is most likely to be found,” says Md Azad, a Public Health Inspector with the HKPR District Health Unit. “A person may initially experience tingling sensations when infected water is allowed to evaporate on the skin and the parasites penetrate the skin. Later, red spots, rashes and itching symptoms can develop.”

In most cases, there is no treatment required for Swimmer’s Itch as it is more of a nuisance than a medical problem, Azad notes. Itching symptoms may continue for several days, before disappearing within a week. People are encouraged to avoid scratching if at all possible. Applying skin lotions to the affected areas of the body can provide some relief.

According to the Health Unit, the best way to deal with Swimmer’s Itch is to take precautions against getting it in the first place. To that end, swimmers are encouraged to do the following:

• Swim away from the shoreline where the parasite that causes Swimmer’s Itch is most likely to be found.

• Avoid areas of the water where snails have accumulated. Snails typically carry the parasite that causes Swimmer’s Itch.

• Rub your skin with a rough towel as soon as you get out of the water. If water is left to dry on the skin, there is a greater likelihood of developing Swimmer’s Itch.

• Have a shower with clean water as soon as you leave the lake or river.

To learn more about preventing Swimmer’s Itch, visit www.hkpr.on.ca or call the Health Unit at 1-866-888-4577 and speak to a Public Health Inspector.

For media inquiries, contact:

Md Azad, Public Health Inspector, HKPR District Health Unit, (905) 885-9100 or toll-free: 1-866-888-4577.

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