Reports of swimmers itch surfacing on local lakes

As the Fourth of July holiday approaches, reports have been coming in that swimmers itch is back in some of the Cadillac area\'s lakes including lakes Cadillac and Mitchell.

CADILLAC — The Fourth of July is just around the corner and the thermometer is looking to be potentially in the upper 80s and 90s next week.

With options limited for what people can do due to COVID-19, going to the beach is likely to be a popular thing for many people looking for summer fun heading into the holiday. It appears, however, something is making those fun trips to the beach potentially not as fun. Reports have been coming in that swimmers itch is back in some of the Cadillac area's lakes including Lakes Cadillac and Mitchell.

Swimmers itch, also called cercarial dermatitis, is a skin rash caused by an allergic reaction to infection with certain parasites of birds and mammals. The parasite's eggs enter the water via their hosts' feces. Before infecting birds, animals, or people, the hatched parasites must live for a time within a type of snail.

These snails live near the shoreline, which explains why infections occur most often in shallow water. The parasites that cause swimmer's itch live in the blood of waterfowl and in animals that live near ponds and lakes. Examples include geese, ducks, gulls, beavers, and muskrats.

District Health Department No. 10 Environmental Health Director Tom Reichard said his office has received two complaints so far about swimmers itch — one in Lake Cadillac and one in Lake Mitchell.

"Last year was a horrible year for swimmers itch. Many of our lakes had it and unfortunately, we may see the same thing this year," he said. "A lot (about lakes getting swimmers itch) has to do with the bird population and the weather and neither one is something we have control over. It is a situation that comes up a lot."

Wexford County Drain Commissioner Michael Solomon said he has started to hear about swimmers itch as well. He, however, has heard about the issue on Lake Cadillac but not on Lake Mitchell. While the lakes were at one time treated for swimmers itch with copper sulfate, Solomon said that practice has stopped and is no longer considered to be an "environmentally safe treatment."

Dr. Jennifer L. Jermalowicz-Jones who is the Water Resources Director/Certified Professional Watershed Manager for Restorative Lake Sciences which consults for both lakes Cadillac and Mitchell said she had not heard much about swimmers itch on either lake.

"They had been problematic in past years and the old method of control was to use copper sulfate," she said. "Today, we know that copper sulfate bioaccumulates in lake sediments and results in harm to bottom-dwelling organisms."

Other nearby lakes such as Higgins Lake has been using a merganser control management method that appears to be working well to reduce the swimmers itch parasite and it could potentially be considered as a treatment for both lakes, according to Jermalowicz-Jones.

The best recommendation to alleviate the problem is quite simple. A person should immediately rinse off with soap and water after swimming or being in the lakes. It also is important to not feed waterfowl.

Other ways to minimize your risk include wearing waterproof sunblock or baby oil; trying to swim when offshore winds are not present and rubbing briskly with a towel immediately after leaving the water.

Swimmer's Itch is not dangerous or contagious but it can be uncomfortable. In some people, it can hardly be noticed while others may have severe itching, swelling, and fever. The symptoms usually go away in about a week. 

Cadillac News