Sources at the park office said that officials were hoping swimmer’s itch would be a non-issue this season, because water levels were lower than in previous years. They said that with water levels lower than normal, most of the vegetation that the parasite thrived in had died off leaving a much smaller ecosystem for them to live in.
According to the website, http://stateparks.utah.gov, swimmer’s itch is a microscopic parasite, called cercarial, that is typically found in shallow waters, and can cause an irritating rash when the human body is exposed to it. Cercarial is generally harmless the website reports, and can be found in bodies of water worldwide during the warmer summer months.
Washington resident Brytanee Randall said she went to Sand Hollow with two other families on Monday to swim in the cliff area. She said that she was aware of the parasites affinity for the parts of the lake with lots of vegetation so she thought the cliff area would be a better choice this visit. Unfortunately, however, she said that 11 out of the 12 people who went along that day got the itch, but she said the five children in their group got it the worst.
“All 5 were itching, but only 4 of them received bumps,” Randall said. “The thing that concerned me the most about it is that we seriously were at the lake for an hour, but my kids were crying so bad, because of how badly they were itching their skin.
“That’s never even happened before, ever – it’s never been the case that I took my kids to Sand Hollow and they were itching even before we even left the park,” she added.
Randall said that the children spent only 30 minutes in the water before they were crying and begging to get out. She said the red splotchy hives appeared quickly and there was little she could do to sooth her crying children.
The incident was so alarming to her that on Tuesday she said she posted pictures to Facebook, because she felt other parents should know the risks before they take their children. As of today, the image of Randall’s 10-year-old daughter has been shared almost 600 times.
“I am not trying to discourage people from going to Sand Hollow – I love Sand Hollow,” she said. “I just think people should know what they may be in for.”
Randall said that she has been visiting the park since the state created it, and that she enjoys playing in the water there. She said that last summer alone, her family went to Sand Hollow at least 12 times to relax and enjoy the beauty of the park. After Monday’s excursion however, she said she plans to visit Quail Creek State Park until the issue at Sand Hollow is resolved.
“I think I’m at least not going to take my kids there again anytime soon,” Randall said. “It’s one thing when you’re an adult and you know the possibilities, it’s another thing when you’re a kid and you have no choice in the matter.”
Sources at the park said that there are things that visitors can do to protect themselves from getting the itch both before and after getting in the water. They said these options are not foolproof solutions, but together, when consistently practiced, they have noticed a positive result.
First, they said it is very important to use sunblock, or tanning oil, because the oils in the lotion block the parasites ability to interact directly with human skin. In addition, they said to make sure to towel dry immediately after exiting the water.
Officials said there is an outside shower unit available in the parking lot near the loading dock and recommended taking a moment to shower off after exiting the water as well. Anyone who notices a rash, or begins to itch, should treat it in the same way they would treat a person with a poison ivy, or a chicken pox itch they said.
Randall said that the only time any of them felt relief from the itch was two days later after swimming in a salt-water pool. She said that until then, she had tried all of the typical methods of dealing with an allergic itch, but none of them had worked very well.
Officials said that not only do they want the public to know and understand what swimmers itch is, but that they also need the public’s help to better understand the full scope of the problem. It is very difficult to track how bad the problem is becoming, because many cases go unreported they said.
They said that so far this season, there were no reports until this week, and as of Wednesday, they had received 25 reported cases. They said they were not sure why there was a sudden increase, but that it may have to do with the water temperature increasing.
All cases of swimmers itch can be reported by calling 435-879-2378. If no one is available, officials ask that the caller try again until they actually reach an attendant. Important information requested by officials: How many adults were in the group; how many adults were affected; how many children were in the group; how many children were affected; specifically what part of the park was the group swimming in, and when?
More information about Sand Hollow State Park, and swimmer’s itch is available at http://stateparks.utah.gov