Swimmers itch a problem on inland lakes this summer

Reports have been coming in that swimmer\'s itch has returned to both Lakes Cadillac and Mitchell.

CADILLAC — Going to the beach is one of the many things that make summer fun and living in Cadillac means you have choices when it comes to lakes with beaches.

It appears, however, something is making those fun trips to the beach potentially not as fun. Reports have been coming in that swimmer's itch has returned to both Lakes Cadillac and Mitchell.

Swimmer's 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.

Restorative Lake Sciences Limnologist/Certified Professional Watershed Manager Jennifer Jermalowicz-Jones said she has been seeing similar things on various inland lakes this summer season. She is the lake consultant for both Lakes Cadillac and Mitchell.

"This is occurring on many inland lakes this season, largely due to increased waterfowl presence. We highly recommend not feeding any waterfowl as tempting as it may be," she said. "Also, copper sulfate may be used but it not healthy for the lake ecology as it accumulates in the lake sediments."

For many years, Lakes Cadillac and Mitchell were treated with large amounts of copper sulfate in an attempt to combat swimmer’s itch. This practice resulted in an accumulation of copper in the sediments of both Lake Mitchell and Lake Cadillac, which may have negatively affected the mayfly population.

In 2013, unspent funds previously used to combat swimmer's itch were returned to the various communities that once banded together to fight the parasites that cause the red, itchy rash. The money had been used to treat lakes Cadillac and Mitchell before the treatment program was halted several years before the money was returned to the city of Cadillac, Wexford County and Cherry Grove, Haring, Selma and Clam Lake townships.

For Jermalowicz-Jones, the best recommendation to alleviate the problem is quite simple. She suggests immediately rinsing off with soap and water after swimming or being in the lakes. She also stressed again 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