CLEAR LAKE — The Iowa Department of Natural Resources says swimmer’s itch is starting to show up in some Iowa lakes. Environmental specialist, Daniel Kendall, says we see it every year.
“It’s a flatworm, it’s microscopic, so you can’t really see it,” he says. “It’s primarily a bird parasite that infects snails. And then when people get in into the same areas where the snails are, those parasites mistake us for their primary host.” Kendall says the flatworm can’t live in a human and they quickly die, causing an allergic reaction below the skin resulting in welts and itching.
He says the parasite eggs are spread by bird droppings that hatch in the water and infect snails. ”The snails like to live in vegetation because that’s what they feed on, so those kind of heavily vegetated areas that, you know, maybe there’s a lot of clear water, that’s their primary habitat and where they’re going to want to be,” Kendall says. He says swimmer’s itch has turned up in north-central and northwest Iowa lakes.
“That’s where we’ve gotten the report so far. But it could, we’re just putting it with us out there for everybody to know across the state because it’s that time of year where people are really getting out there and wanting to recreate and vegetation is getting thick in some systems,” Kendall says. “So it’s really a potential in any of our lakes in water bodies across the state.”
He says there are steps you can take steps to try and avoid getting the itch. “When you get out of the water — wash off really well — so if there’s any leftover on your skin they can’t get you. That’s one way to minimize it,” he says. “Towel off vigorously is another part of that, that helps if there are some that are just like just getting in, you can wipe them off of you.”
Kendall says the health risk isn’t major — just uncomfortable. “It’s really the itch,” he says. The welts and itching caused by the parasite can last for several days to about one week and usually don’t require a visit to the doctor. An antihistamine along with calamine lotion can be used to treat the affected areas.