- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 5, 2016

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - The early ice-out on Minnesota’s lakes this spring is leading to earlier-than-usual outbreaks of swimmer’s itch in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

The annoying but temporary condition is caused by microscopic parasites that lurk in lake water. Swimmers can’t feel them right when they step out of the water, but the parasites soon cause an itchy skin rash. Warmer water temperatures jump-started the growing season for lake vegetation, which provides food for the parasites’ hosts, namely ducks, geese and snails.

Some of the affected swimming waters include the French Regional Park beach on Medicine Lake in Plymouth, Coon Lake in Anoka County and Lakeside Beach in Forest Lake, the Star Tribune reported (https://strib.mn/29eScmx ).

“With the ice going off the lakes earlier this year, everything seems to be ahead of schedule,” said Brian Vlach, water resources supervisor for the Three Rivers Park District, which runs French Regional Park.

Not everyone who comes in contact with the parasite reacts to it. But for those who do, the symptoms can be annoying. Red welts are a telltale sign. So is the can’t-stop-scratching feeling that can last for days or even weeks.

The parasite is a flatworm with a complex life cycle. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, the worm begins in the intestinal lining of water animals such as ducks, geese, beavers and muskrats. The worms lay eggs inside the host and the animal excretes the eggs into the lake. The eggs then hatch and the parasites swim around in search of snails. They live inside snails until the snails release them back into the water, where they seek yet another host.

That’s when they can come across swimmers and burrow into their skin. Humans aren’t suitable hosts, so the parasites soon die, but not before the itching cycle gets underway.

“These parasites grab on to people,” said Shane McBride, a DNR aquatic plant management specialist. “Your body encapsulates it, grabs hold of it, and it itches like no tomorrow.”

Once enough complaints surface, city and county officials move to treat the lakes by using copper sulfate to target the snails and parasites. But the DNR allows only two treatments per season per beach.

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Information from: Star Tribune, https://www.startribune.com

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