Health officials warn visitors to Central Oregon’s lakes about Swimmer’s Itch

Deschutes County Health Services is warning people swimming in any of the Cascade Lakes southwest of Bend to be on the lookout for a condition called Swimmer’s Itch.

The county has received several reports of rash and bite-like symptoms from people who had been swimming in local lakes. Although none of the reports have been confirmed, county officials believe they were likely Swimmer’s Itch, which is caused by an allergic reaction to microscopic parasites found in some birds and mammals. Humans can come into contact with the parasites, which burrow into the skin, through swimming or wading in lakes and streams.

The symptoms of Swimmer’s Itch, which is not contagious, include tingling, burning or itching skin, small red spots on the skin that itch within 12 hours of exposure and itching that lasts a week or more. The more often people swim in contaminated water, the worse the symptoms will get.

Health professionals advise people who find themselves itching after swimming to towel off briskly to remove any larvae, shower as soon as possible, treat the itching with over-the-counter anti-itching ointments or lotions and apply a cool compress to the affected areas. They warn against scratching the affected area to prevent infection. If the itching does not stop, contact a doctor.

To prevent contracting the condition, people are advised to avoid still bodies of non-chlorinated water, especially on warm days, and in water with a high number of ducks, geese, shore birds or snails. (Infected snails release parasites into fresh and salt water.) Skin products that contain zinc oxide have been found to prevent Swimmer’s Itch.

Deschutes County Health Services is working to post notices at lakes warning visitors.