AUSTIN (KXAN) – It’s hot, and you know what that means: it’s a time when Central Texas families swarm to local waterways to beat the heat.
While swimming in Lady Bird Lake is not allowed, there’s a chance you’ll get splashed by the water. Swimmers should beware of a rash that could ruin the fun. A paddleboarder recently took to social media to share her experience about the rash. She claimed she reportedly got it after swimming in Lady Bird Lake.
The City of Austin’s Watershed Protection Department told KXAN the woman’s social media report is the only case it knows about in the lake for the month of May.
“Swimmers itch is generally not reported as not all people are susceptible,” said City of Austin Watershed Protection Department communications manager Susan Garnett. “However, it is not surprising that the parasite is present in the reservoir given the abundance of snails and waterfowl.”
Swimmer’s itch, or cercarial dermatitis, is a skin rash caused by an allergic reaction to certain microscopic parasites. The parasites are released from infected snails into water like lakes, ponds and oceans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While the parasite’s preferred host is the specific bird or mammal, if the parasite comes into contact with a swimmer, it burrows into the skin, causing an allergic reaction and rash. It’s more frequent during summer months. It also cannot be spread from one another.
- Tingling, burning or itching of the skin
- Small reddish pimples
- Small blisters
These symptoms can develop within minutes to days after swimming in the contaminated water, according to the CDC.
Reduce the risk
- Do not swim in bodies of water marked unsafe
- Towel dry or shower immediately after leaving the water
- Keep birds away from the swimming area
- Corticosteroid or anti-itch cream
- Cool compress
- Bathe in Epsom salts, baking soda or oatmeal soak
Testing for toxic algae
Austin Water uses a tool to test the water for cyanobacteria and cyanotoxins. The equipment, called FlowCam Cyano is able to monitor water quality by looking for algae and plankton that could alter the taste or smell of the water.
Harmful algae has been found in Lake Travis and Lady Bird Lake. For years, the City of Austin recommends dog owners keep dogs away from the water when the algae is detected. If dogs go swimming, make sure they do not ingest the water and get rinsed after. Dogs could also get very sick from the toxic algae.
Austin tests the water and reports the findings on the city website.
Despite the belief that swimming was banned in Lady Bird Lake due to dirty water, it was actually banned in the 1960s due to several drownings because underwater debris became hazardous. The city’s Watershed Protection Department said the current water quality in Lady Bird Lake meets recreational standards.
*A previous version of this story called the woman a “swimmer,” KXAN has corrected the story to clarify she was paddle boarding before reporting swimmer’s itch on social media.