Summer in Kitsap means swimmer's itch again
June 12, 2008 · Updated 10:23 AM
"Bremerton-Kitsap County Health District officials this week formally warned summer-time revelers against the hazards of swimmer's itch. The announcement, practically a perennial event all across the Puget Sound region, followed several recent complaints phoned in to Kitsap health district officials by folks stricken with the telltale, persistent, skin rash and redness. Health district water-quality specialist Stuart Whitford said several cases of swimmer's itch were reported since the beginning of June at Island Lake in Central Kitsap and Long Lake in South Kitsap. June and July are the most common months during which swimmer's itch becomes a problem, said Whitford. Although the reported cases were specific to a couple of lakes, any surface water or fresh water beach is a concern. Swimmer's itch is caused by a parasite known to infect migratory fowl or other aquatic birds such as geese and ducks that typically flock to lakes and beaches. In some cases, these free-floating parasites can enter a swimmer's skin, where they eventually die, causing redness, itching and discomfort. Such symptoms become obvious to a swimmer within five minutes to an hour after exiting a lake. Within 12 hours, pimples could form in the infected area and, within another day, those pimples could become blisters. If they become infected, immediate medical attention could be required. Although the symptoms cause discomfort, officials say no permanent side effects or health problems can crop up because of a bout with swimmers' itch. Besides, there are ways to treat swimmer's itch' if it does become a problem, and just as many to altogether avoid coming down with a case of it in the long, hot months ahead. First and foremost, Whitford says all swimmers at any Kitsap County lake should shower or at least towel off vigorously after taking a dip. Another good way to avoid the problem is to keep away from lakes with a known problem. Health officials also suggest not feeding waterfowl, which encourages more birds to converge at a lake and, thus, actually increase the presence of the parasites in the water. Itching symptoms can be relieved or controlled by applying a phenolized calamine lotion and by taking an oral antihistamine, health officials say. Still, affected swimmers should talk with their doctor for proper care and treatment. Whitford said the health district constantly monitors at least 15 of the county's major lakes, although none are tested for the parasite that causes swimmers itch. But officials do consistently monitor for E coli bacteria in Kitsap lakes, and issue advisories and post signs, depending on what they find in the water. "