Itchy times in Yk
A dozen cases of swimmer's itch reported at hospital

Glen Vienneau
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Aug 11/00) - It's not much worse than a mosquito bite, but recent rash of swimmer's itch is causing much discomfort for swimmers.

"It's pretty uncomfortable and I guess if you can avoid it, that's the best way to do it," said Brad Colpitts, regional senior environmental health officer with the Stanton Regional Health Board.

Last week, the outpatients unit at the Stanton Regional Hospital handled about a dozen people who caught swimmer's itch from taking a dunk in Long Lake.

Swimmer's itch is a name given to a skin reaction caused by a small parasites in the water. It creates a red skin rash that can last from five days up to two weeks.

Although it is not a health hazard, it can be a serious problem for those having an allergic reaction to the parasite. It is only those cases where immediate medical attention is needed.

Colpitts is also aware of reports of swimmers catching algae blooms at the head of Yellowknife Bay.

"People swimming in that might experience a similar kind of skin rash," he explained.

Algae blooms, a non-flowering stemless water plant, appeared in the lake as little green specks.

"With swimmer's itch, it is a parasite that's become confused and it actually bores into your skin, but with the algae it's more of a reaction to a bit of some toxin release," said Colpitts.

"We know there are both (swimmer's itch and algae blooms) out there, so potentially it could be either or both," said Colpitts.

"I'm sure the other lakes are being similarly affected because of the warm weather."

For those who can't resist going into the lakes, the other most effective way to help prevent catching these rashes is to shower with a vigorous scrub immediately after coming out the water.

For beach enthusiast Craig Broddy, of Yellowknife, another precaution is to use clean towels.

If that doesn't work, the use of over-the-counter anti-itch lotions or antihistamines can be used to relieve the symptoms, added Colpitts.