Parasites blamed for swimmers' rashes at Wauconda lake

  • Microscopic parasites are blamed for a rash affecting some people who have frolicked in Wauconda's Bangs Lake.

    Microscopic parasites are blamed for a rash affecting some people who have frolicked in Wauconda's Bangs Lake. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer

  • Microscopic parasites are blamed for a rash affecting some people who have frolicked in Wauconda's Bangs Lake.

    Microscopic parasites are blamed for a rash affecting some people who have frolicked in Wauconda's Bangs Lake. Mark Welsh | Staff Photographer, 2020

 
 
Updated 6/13/2021 7:14 AM

Microscopic parasites are blamed for a rash affecting some people who have frolicked in Wauconda's Bangs Lake.

The burrowing of the tiny pests creates an annoying condition commonly known as swimmer's itch.

 

The Wauconda Park District, which operates Phil's Beach at the lake, first warned people about the cases via Facebook on June 3. The Lake County Health Department sent out its own warning Friday.

Beachgoers are reporting fresh cases daily, said Tim Staton, the park district's recreation director. An estimated number of cases wasn't available.

A warning sign has been posted at Phil's Beach, Staton said. Notices also appear on the district's website and on the village website.

The condition isn't contagious.

The parasites that cause swimmer's itch are found in lakes, ponds and oceans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The adult parasites live in the blood of birds and mammals. Their eggs pass into water through feces, and the resulting larvae seek a certain species of aquatic snail. Infected snails then release a different larvae into the water that search for hosts.

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Humans aren't suitable hosts, but the microscopic larvae still will burrow into a swimmer's skin before dying, the CDC reports.

Children are most often affected because they tend to play in shallow water where the larvae are more common. They're also less likely to towel dry themselves when leaving water, Lake County Health Department spokeswoman Emily Young said.

According to the CDC, symptoms may include tingling, burning or itchy skin; small, reddish pimples; and small blisters.

Itching may last up to a week or more, but it will gradually go away.

Most cases don't require medical attention. To relieve the itching, use a corticosteroid cream or another anti-itch lotion, apply cool compresses to the affected areas, or bathe in Epsom salts or baking soda. Other home treatments can be found at cdc.gov/parasites/swimmersitch/faqs.html.

If itching is severe, your health care provider may suggest prescription-strength lotions or creams.

To reduce your chances of developing swimmer's itch, the CDC says:

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

• Don't swim in areas where swimmer's itch is a known problem or where signs are posted warning of unsafe water.

• Don't swim near or wade in marshy areas where snails are commonly found.

• Towel dry or shower immediately after leaving the water.

• Don't feed wild birds near areas where people are swimming, which could attract more birds.

Additionally, Wauconda Park District officials recommend applying waterproof sunscreen before swimming to protect the skin from the parasites. Wash swimsuits often, too.

The flare-up of swimmer's itch cases is occurring during the park district's first full season of operations at Phil's Beach. The district acquired the once privately owned site in 2016 and spent years renovating it. The public opening was delayed a bit last summer because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Officials can't determine how long the outbreak will last. Sometimes, factors leading to the condition change within a season, Young said.

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