Swimmer's itch, a skin rash caused by microscopic parasites, has been reported at two lakes within the Municipality of Anchorage.

Jewel and Goose lakes are the only beaches with supervised swim areas in the municipality. The lakes are prone to swimmer's itch during the mid- to late-summer months and as of July 1, cases of the rash have been reported in both.

According to a brochure from the municipality, swimmer's itch is often found in Alaska’s lakes and ponds in the summer. 

"Swimmers’ itch is a dermatitis that develops on parts of the body that have been exposed to lake water," the brochure reads. "Reddened spots, called papules, form on the body within hours after exposure and will itch intensely for several days before subsiding."

The brochure says that symptoms usually disappear within a week, but it's possible for those affected to develop fevers, become nauseous and have several sleepless nights.

"A person gets swimmer itch when larval parasites (flatworms) burrow into the skin of a sensitive persons swimming or wading in the water. Since the parasites cannot live inside the human body, they soon die causing an intense allergic reaction," the brochure reads. "Human penetration by the parasite is accidental, as flatworms ordinarily penetrates ducks, geese and seagulls. Although you are not able to see the parasite, the existence of birds in or around the water may indicate the existence of the parasite."

Anyone who gets into infested waters has the potential to develop the rash. The brochure says that parasites are more likely to be present in shallow water by the shoreline.

"Children are most often infected due to their habits of swimming or wading in shallow water," the brochure reads. "Also children often do not towel dry themselves when leaving the water."

Reported cases of swimmer's itch does not mean that the lakes are polluted. According to the brochure, "natural lake conditions promote the diversity of species, including snails and birds that are potential hosts for the causative agents of swimmers’ itch."

Swimmer's itch cannot be passed from person to person. Most cases do not require medical attention and can typically be treated with hydrocortisone cream or another anti-itch lotion.

To reduce the chances of getting swimmer's itch, the municipality recommends the following:

•     Towel off immediately after swimming or wading in infested water
•     Swim in water away from the shore
•     Avoid swimming in areas with snails and birds
•     Don’t feed the birds near the lakes

For more information on swimmer's itch, visit the municipality's website.

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