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Parasite scare shuts beaches

Lake of the Pines security guards told swimmers to get out of the water Sunday after an aquatic parasite found in the lake caused a skin rash known as swimmer’s itch and generated 20 complaints, according to the association’s general manager.

All of the lake’s seven beaches were closed Sunday in an effort to prevent the spread of swimmer’s itch or Cercarial dermatitis, an allergic reaction to a small parasite called a blood fluke, said the general manager, Kathryn Henricksen. The annoying rash can last several days to a week.

A recent heat wave, warm lake water and an influx in people swimming in it were a recipe for the outbreak, Henricksen added.



It’s been at least 15 to 20 years since the lake had an outbreak, said Henricksen.

The closure came just days before a scheduled seasonal herbicide treatment to control aquatic weeds in the lake.




Killing plant material in the lake should help control the snails that produce the parasite, but it is unclear if it will eliminate them completely in time for Memorial Day weekend, said Henricksen.

“There are no guarantees. This is a natural environment,”Henricksen said.

Infected snails release the tiny parasites into fresh and salt water reservoirs where they look for a bird or muskrat host. Adult parasites live in the animal’s blood. The parasites produce eggs that are passed in the feces of infected animals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Parasitic Diseases.

Reservoirs with large populations of ducks, geese and aquatic weeds are particularly prone to infestation, the CDC said.

When the flukes burrow into the skin of people wading, playing or swimming in infested shallow waters, the flukes die, causing an allergic reaction that results in intense itching, a rash and sometimes small blisters.

Lake of the Pines sent out mass e-mails to its members after the lake closure and posted a notice on its Web site at http://www.lop.org/.

Most of the complaints came Sunday, and Lake of the Pines officials didn’t determine the cause was a parasite until Monday, Henricksen said.

But some believe the warnings should have come sooner.

“I definitely think they waited too long. There was a bunch of kids getting the rash,” said Sarah Larroque who with her children were among those told to leave the lake Sunday. Two weeks before, her 7-year-old son had developed a rash after swimming in the lake with friends.

“The next morning, it looked like he had hives all over his body,” Larroque said.

Larroque’s pediatrician couldn’t identify the rash and guessed it was chicken pox even though the boy had previously been vaccinated for the disease. Larroque was told to keep her son out of school because he was contagious. For five days the boy itched and his parents gave him Benadryl at night to help him sleep.

Since then concerns had begun to circulate among Larroque’s friends that other children had developed the rash thought to be caused by a parasite. The day of the lake closure, at least three other girls showed signs of the rash.

“I know for us, we won’t be going back this summer,” Larroque said.

Because of the herbicide treatment, fishing for consumptive use is not recommended for the remainder of the week and swimming is not recommended for at least two days, Henricksen.

The pool will be open everyday from 3 to 6 p.m.

To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail lbrown@theunion.com or call 477-4231.

Ways to avoid and treat swimmer’s itch:

n Do not swim or play in water where there are a large number of ducks or geese, or areas infested with aquatic weeds and snails.

n Swim in the water for shorter periods of time (10 minutes or less).

n Dry off as soon as possible after leaving the water by thoroughly rubbing the skin with a dry towel. This may remove the burrowing fluke larvae.

n Avoid attracting birds by feeding them in areas where people swim.

n Most cases of swimmer’s itch do not require medical attention. Corticosteroid creams, cool compresses, Epson salt or oatmeal baths, baking soda paste and anti-itch lotions such as Calamine may offer temporary relief.

n On the Web: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dpd/parasites/cercarialdermatitis/factsht_cercarialdermatitis.htm


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