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Lakes Leave Swimmers Scratching

(Fairbanks, Ak.) Some people who swim at the Fairbanks North Star Borough’s Tanana Lakes Recreation Area develop an itchy rash. The red welts known as “Swimmer’s Itch” are the result of a tiny parasite, carried by water fowl and snails that latch onto human skin. Borough Parks Superintendent John Haas links the numerous cases of “Swimmers Itch” reported by Tanana Lakes swimmers this summer, to the weather.

“We believe that it is tied to water temperature, and some years when it’s been rainy, or not very warm, generally you get almost no reported cases of Swimmer’s Itch. This year was particularly bad because we had such a warm May and June.”   

Haas says some waterproof sunscreens as well as immediate rinsing with clean water and vigorous toweling off can help ward off swimmer’s itch, which results from tiny flat worms which try to borrow into the skin before dying. They pose no human health risk other than an allergic reaction that produces red itchy welts lasting up to a week. Haas says the parasites, which can also be a problem at the borough’s Chena Lakes recreation area in North Pole, are nothing new and solutions have been looked into.

“You can poison the water with copper sulfate, but it also has effects on the fish and other invertebrates that are in the lake water.”

Haas says the borough has posted warning signs about ‘Swimmers Itch” at the Tanana Lake’s beach, and is looking into installing hand pump wells so that swimmers can wash off.  Haas says showers at the borough’s Chena Lakes Recreation Area, help protect against swimmers itch, but there are still cases there as well. ### 

Dan has been in public radio news in Alaska since 1993. He’s worked as a reporter, newscaster and talk show host at stations in McGrath, Valdez and Fairbanks. Dan’s experience includes coverage of a wide range of topics, from wolf control to the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and dog mushing.