Every 4th of July morning Steve and I have a tradition of swimming across the lake and back. This 4th we woke the girls up early and were in the water by 8 a.m. Autumn and Alaina sat on our windsurfing board and Autumn used a kayak paddle to steer right beside us in-case we needed any assistance. It was an enjoyable swim and we managed to cross the lake and back in under an hour.
When we got home I jumped into the shower to get ready for the parade, and while I was in the shower I became extremely itchy. My neck and ankles were especially itchy, and by the time I exited the shower I felt like crying. About 10 minutes later I began breaking out in red bumps all over my body. Steve began complaining that his neck and ankles were itchy as well, and we decided that we were probably experiencing a case of swimmer's itch. (I had never had it before, but Steve has had it plenty of times, so he knew right away).
We went to the parade, and the girls played some fun carnival games, purchased a neat table top game at a garage sale, and caught lots of candy...but all I could think about was itching! Later in the day they both began complaining that their ankles were itchy as well (they were the only parts that were in the water when they were paddling), and we found out that a few of our neighbor's kids also got the itch. (Steve was lucky because he had worn a wetsuit, so it protected most of his body, and he never got it all over)
That night we went to a wonderful neighborhood potluck and everyone shared ideas about how to prevent swimmer's itch...we were told to towel dry off vigorously (did that) and to shower immediately (did that too)....When we got home we did a little research online. Here is some info we learned:
What is Swimmer's Itch?Swimmer's itch is a skin rash that is caused by an allergic reaction to microscopic parasites that are carried by waterfowl, semi-aquatic mammals, and snails. As a part of their life cycle, these parasites are released by infected snails into the water. This is where they may come in contact with people and burrow into their skin.
The good news is the organism that causes swimmer's itch cannot complete its life history in the human body. Your body's immune system detects it as a foreign protein, then attacks and kills it shortly after it penetrates your skin. The itching and welts are not caused by the organism living under your skin, but by an allergic reaction.
Not everyone is sensitive to swimmer's itch. Some people show no symptoms of swimmer's itch even though others swimming at the same time and place break out severely. Much like poison ivy, however, your sensitivity to swimmer's itch will increase with each exposure. There are several over the counter remedies your pharmacist can recommend to help relieve the discomfort, but see your physician for a definitive diagnosis.
Where does it come from?The organism that causes swimmer's itch has a complicated life history. It starts out in the intestinal lining of waterfowl, mostly ducks. The life stage that causes swimmer's itch is called a "cercaria" which is an immature stage of a blood fluke common in waterfowl. The cercaria only lives for a day or so and typically inhabits the upper few inches of lake water. This increases its chances of coming into contact with a duck (its definitive host). Once it's in the duck, it easily moves around the lake, and ultimately along the shoreline.
Swimmer’s itch is not spread from person to person.
Reducing the odds of getting swimmer's itchThere are actions you can take to help reduce the odds of getting swimmer's itch.
- Keep waterfowl away from your dock and shoreline. If you are feeding waterfowl (ducks and geese) from your dock, stop. If ducks like to rest on your dock, do what you can to discourage them. You can try putting an owl wind sock or statue on your dock and move it around occasionally so the ducks don't become accustomed to it.
- Stay out of the water by the shore. If ducks don't congregate around your dock, the swimmer's itch organism may originate somewhere else in the lake and is being brought to your shoreline by wave action or currents. You may want to try swimming from a raft or boat farther out from shore where you are less likely to come into contact with the cercaria. Of course, this strategy may not be practical if you don't swim or have young children who want to play in the water near shore.
- Dry off with a towel as soon as you get out of the water. When you get out of the lake, don't let the water evaporate off your skin. The organism in the droplets of water on your skin will look for somewhere to go as the droplet of water evaporates.
Later, we went to the fireworks in Brimley, and they were spectacular. After the show there were at least 100 giant lanterns released into the sky and we watched them drift up and over the lake. It was very pretty, and this turned out to be our favorite part of the evening.
On Friday, the 5th, there were lots of people swimming in our lake and no one was reporting getting the itch, so Autumn took a sauna that night in the floating sauna and jumped in numerous times and felt just fine.
On Saturday, we went for a long bike ride, and then went down to check out the beach. Some of our neighbors were in the water, so the girls got in as well. About 5 minutes later, Autumn's friend got out and said "I'm itchy!!!!"
Oh NO! Not again... We all left the beach and went running home to jump in the tub. Autumn and Alaina started crying hysterically because they were so uncomfortable and we looked out our back window to see our neighbors sprinting down to the cold waters of Lake Superior to try and get some relief.
The rest of the day was an itchy nightmare for both of them. That exposure did them in. The girls managed to suffer through their play practice in town, and we still went to another potluck and bonfire that night. Steve, Autumn and myself took a sauna and risked jumping in the deep side of the lake (with no ill-effects), but no amount of convincing could get Alaina to enter the water. I don't blame her. The intensity of swimmer's itch is somewhat traumatizing, and is something our family wishes to avoid in the future. I think it will be some time before Alaina feels safe swimming in our lake!
Well, it will also be a long time before this 4th of July is scratched from our memories!