Medically it is known as cercarial dermatitis. It results in the formation of patchy pinpoint skin rash which is associated with itching on the region of the body that has been in the water. This is not a severe condition. After the transitory itching, it disappears without any treatment required. The itching starts within the first forty eight hours and can last for up to seven days. One of the major causes of this disease is trematode parasites of aquatic birds. The parasite which is released by aquatic or amphibious snails causes dermatitis when it penetrates a person`s skin rather than the rightful host. This disease can occur in both freshwater and marine coastal environments.
It is caused when a thin layer of cercariae infested water dries on the exposed skin. In such cases the cercariae penetrates the outer layer of the human skin and after entering the skin it dies and causes dermatitis in individuals who have been previously sensitized. The larvae which is produced is infective for twenty four hours only. Waterfowl are the usual hosts of these flatworms and humans get infected only accidentally.
The first exposure to infested water might not result in any reaction. It is only after repeated exposure that sensitivity to cercariae might develop. The symptoms include initial itchy sensation which usually settles down and leaves the infected individual with tiny red spots at the sites of penetration of the larvae. It is only after a number of hours that intense itching might develop and the red spots enlarge to form papules and at times hives. If the rash is not treated, it usually settles down within several weeks. The rashes which are formed are generally limited to the areas of the body that are directly exposed to water. Therefore the skin under the swimwear remains protected. Those who have previously suffered from swimmer`s itch are at a higher risk of developing this condition again.
Treatment might not be required if there are a few itching spots. When the infection occurs, the skin should be rinsed with isopropyl alcohol and calamine lotion should be applied. A gentle corticosteroid cream may be beneficial. Incase the initial itching gets severe then scratching can result in skin infections and abrasions might develop. Antibiotics are administered for treating secondary infections. In severe cases, oral steroids are recommended. Other forms of treatment that are suggested include cool compresses, colloidal oatmeal baths and applying baking soda paste to the rash.
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