Swimmers’ Itch

What is Swimmers’ Itch?

Swimmers’ itch is a common skin irritation caused by the larval form of a parasitic flatworm, found in snails and waterfowl. The larva burrows into skin and dies as humans are not the correct host. It leaves the unlucky person with a nasty itch. While not dangerous to health, swimmers’ itch may cause great discomfort.

ESLA’s position on Swimmer’s Itch has changed as science has advanced. Working with Ron Reimink of Fresh Water Solutions, LLC led ESLA to focus on strategies to avoid infection, rather than continuing a one-year program of the trapping and moving native merganser hens and their broods to Great Lakes’ shorelines.

In 2018 and 2019, ESLA conducted bird surveys on Elk and Skegemog Lakes that gave us critical data about how other waterfowl species and migratory birds use our lakes. That included regular sampling for swimmer’s itch, along with DNA source tracking analysis, called qPCR, and collected fecal samples from the various waterfowl. The data made clear that migratory waterfowl, as well as native mallards and geese all were hosts in the life cycles of the parasites. ESLA concluded we had to stop fighting nature. Removing Common Meganser hens and broods, which was sanctioned by the DEQ, was expensive and ineffective.

Ducks swimming in the water. Second image is a little girl in a bucket

UPDATED ADVICE: 1. Avoid water contact in morning; 2. Avoid the first few yards near shorelines; 3. Avoid the water when on-shore winds are blowing.

These steps should dramatically reduce bites leading to the itchy bumps. In addition, wearing tight-fitting clothing, such as the rash guard shown above, protects skin from the bites.

Photos and suggestions courtesy Ron Reimink, Freshwater Solutions LLC

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Comprehensive Assessment Research Initiative

Elk-Skegemog Lake Association (ESLA)
2020 Final Report
20 November 2020
Submitted by: Ron Reimink, M.A. Freshwater Solutions, LLC & Patrick Hanington, Ph.D. University of Alberta

2020 Swimmers Itch Report