The first reports of swimmers' itch, commonly referred to as "duck itch" are rolling in so now is a good time to provide information for lake residents and visitors. Swimmers' itch is an allergic reaction that causes irritation to the skin when it comes in contact with cercaria larvae, a tiny parasite carried in waterfowl and other mammals and released into the water when they defecate. Swimmers' itch became prominent in the 1950's when the U.S. Fish and Game imported mallard ducks, which carried the parasite, into many New Hampshire lakes to increase game population. Although cercaria is not parasitic to humans and causes no long-term health effects or disease, it can be extremely uncomfortable; causing tingling, burning and itching of the skin within minutes of exposure and generally causes a pimple-like bump on the skin within 12 hours of contact, which may worsen to blisters. Ointments used for mosquito and other bug bites can be used to lessen the symptoms of duck itch, however, the rash itself typically goes away naturally within a few days. There are no ways to completely prevent swimmers' itch however there are ways to lessen your chance of coming in contact with the parasite. You can minimize your risk by following these tips:
- Avoid swimming in areas that are known to have the parasite, or that have signs posted warning about swimmers' itch.
- Encourage officials to post signs if there have been known break outs.
- Avoid swimming in marsh-like areas where snails are commonly found as they are the intermediate host that release cercaria into the water.
- Dry off or shower immediately after swimming.
- Don't feed the ducks or other waterfowl found on your lake!
Taken from the NH Department of Environmental Website
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