Bay Mills Biological Services conducts beach monitoring the swimming areas at Riverview and Gumshoes beaches through the summer. The water samples are tested for nutrients and E. coli weekly during swimming season. For more information, contact Bay Mills Biological Services at 906-248-8648.
Swimmer’s Itch at Beaches
E. coli is a bacteria often blamed for swimmer’s itch, which is caused by a very different organism. Swimmer’s itch is an unfortunate, yet common infliction that bathers face during the summer swimming season. Swimmer’s itch is an irritating condition caused by a microscopic, parasitic flatworm that results in itchy red bumps on the skin. The flatworms that cause the condition use snails and waterfowl as hosts during their life cycle. Humans get swimmer’s itch when they come in contact with water that is infested with flatworm larvae. The flatworms burrow into the skin causing itchy red bumps that last for about a week. Humans are not the correct host for these flatworms, and they cause no other harm to us other than the irritating itching. The best way to prevent a swimmer’s itch infection is to vigorously towel dry immediately after swimming. One could also avoid beaches that are frequented by waterfowl or have large numbers of snails. Bay Mills Biological Services Department does weekly beach testing for E. coli bacteria, but it cannot test for swimmer’s itch.
E. coli bacteria in this area are often due to bird or other wildlife fecal inputs. The bacteria can cause skin and eye irritation or cause infections in cuts or wounds already present. If the source of bacteria is of human origin, there may be an increased risk due to more harmful strains of E. coli, other bacteria, parasites, or viruses. Unfortunately, there is no test for swimmer’s itch; the only way to know if water is infested is to see the effects of the flatworm on skin.