Sand Hollow Reservoir’s pesky parasite, dealing with swimmer’s itch

HURRICANE — With Sand Hollow Mayhem bringing thousands to Sand Hollow Reservoir in Hurricane for a full blown beach party with emphasis on water sports Saturday, the renown swimmer’s itch that many experience after bathing in the state’s warm water reservoir is on many people’s radar. Some people are saying it’s worse this year than ever, while park officials report it’s another normal year.

What is swimmer’s itch? 

As Sand Hollow Reservoir warms to 70 degrees, a free-swimming microscopic parasite called cercarial that lives in shallow water flourishes. It is not unique to Sand Hollow and can be found worldwide especially in summer months.

Neighboring Quail Lake Reservoir does not struggle with the swimmer’s itch complaints because the water is slightly more acidic which naturally repels the parasite. A reliable indication of the parasite is whether cattails can be found growing around the lake, Department of Natural Resources Park Manager Laura Melling said. If there are cattails then there is most likely swimmer’s itch.

Swimmer’s itch is a person’s allergic reaction to the cercarial parasite with symptoms that include tingling, burning or itching of the skin, small reddish pimples and small blisters. Scratching the infected area can lead to secondary infections.

Eradication of the parasite from Sand Hollow would involve poisoning the water which would kill the fish and possibly leach into the water supply.

“It’s an irritant for everyone but it’s not a health issue,” Melling said. “Nothing is going to get done about it because of the people who own the water.”


Carl LeBray of Hurricane said his family frequents Sand Hollow every year. They have experienced swimmer’s itch in the past, he said, but this year is brutal and much worse.

“My kids were in the water for only 30 to 40 minutes and they came out screaming bloody murder,” LeBray said. “They were experiencing an extreme burning sensation before they got out of the water. Normally it’s just itchy the next day.”

The spots didn’t show up until the next day, which covered LeBray’s kids from head to toe with “spots within every half inch,” he said. “No one told us about it. Then there is the huge Mayhem tomorrow, it’s going to be a catastrophe. We need to get the state to do something about it.”

Alexa Wray recalls her late fiancé Jake Foote contracting swimmer’s itch from a shallow part of the Sand Hollow Reservoir.

“It was awful for him,” Wray said. “He went to the doctor and had to take medicated baths.”

Worse this year?

The problem is just about the same as it was last year, Melling said. Statistically, 7 percent of the population will experience swimmer’s itch one time.

One of the park rangers who frequently snorkels said that after the parasites hatch they can be seen free floating in a cluster beneath the surface, Melling said, which could be one of the reasons why some people feel that this year’s swimmer’s itch is worse than ever.

A person could stumble into an area of high concentration of parasites and contract a severe case of swimmer’s itch, while another person six feet away might not contract the itch at all.

Prevention and treatment

Preventative measures include applying sunscreen lotion before immersing yourself into the water — not the spray on kind which is too thin to deter the parasite — and then immediately drying off with a towel when you get out.

“One thing we try to remind visitors is that swimmer’s itch isn’t something you’re going to have for 10 years,” Melling said. “It goes away after about three to five days.”

Melling said she hands out free samples of Allegra cream to park visitors to help relieve itching.

Other treatments recommended include:

  • Soak in colloidal oatmeal baths
  • Bathe in Epson salts or baking soda
  • Corticosteroid (anti-itch) cream
  • Cool compress to the affected area
  • Use an anti-itch lotion
  • Apply baking soda paste to the rash

St. George News Reporter Kimberly Scott contributed to this report.

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  • Craig June 13, 2014 at 4:33 pm

    Bottom line…it’s a nasty ugly hole in the ground so stay out of it.

  • Ron McKinney June 13, 2014 at 4:43 pm

    Anybody that says it’s not getting worse each year is not paying attention. It was safe to swim in deep water until last year. Now they are all over the lake. It has had one positive effect, lots less people want to get in the water so the crowds are smaller. I bet after this weekends event lots more people are going somewhere else. I know my family likes to play in the water and can’t with these little buggers boring into everyone. Oh well I can still go fishing just not swimming.

  • Cathy June 13, 2014 at 5:20 pm

    Best remedy.. Just don’t go in the dirty filthy water at Sand Hollow. You pay to get swimmers itch, lol

  • IQ92 June 13, 2014 at 5:20 pm

    Helpful article. I’ll be using Quail Creek, henceforth.

  • ladybugavenger June 13, 2014 at 5:34 pm

    No thank you, I’ll stay out of the water 🙂

  • LilMama June 13, 2014 at 6:17 pm

    We went out to the park a couple weeks ago. There were signs posted at the entrance that clearly stated that swimmers itch was very active. We asked what it was, and they gave us some information. They also recommended that we dry off thoroughly, and shower as soon as we get home. At that point we knew the risks, it was our choice whether or not to get in the water. We had 4 adults and 6 children, none of whom contracted swimmer’s itch. The one person with skin sensitivities chose to stay out of the water. The beach was still fun!

  • Chad Holmes June 13, 2014 at 6:35 pm

    This should be called swimmers pox or swimmers outbreak. Itch isn’t a strong enough word to describe the misery you and you family will go though if you become infected. Get informed before you go in the water at Sand Hollow. Google swimmers itch and look at the photos. That is what you will look like if you get swimmers itch. My whole family got it this weekend swimming in the middle, not the shallow part, of the lake. Almost a week later and I’m finally past the itch but still have the battle scars from my day at Sand Hollow. We will never go in that lake again unless something is done to correct the problem. It’s too bad because its such a fun place to cool off in St George.

  • Billion June 13, 2014 at 7:10 pm

    Why doesn’t the media, rather than make a panic out of something that affects only a small percentage of people, educate instead. Refrain from using overly dramatic statements like “screaming bloody murder” and “it will be a catastrophe” and then posting the most extreme picture of skin rash you can find. Most of the 7% of people who are affected will not have any noticeable visual skin condition, it will just itch a bit for a few hours (not a few days like claimed), others of the small percentage might have a more severe reaction. I swim in the lake frequently, have gotten the itch several times, yes it itches, slightly, and goes away quickly. Don’t make a big deal about it! Come on, why unnecessarily try to scare people away from the best, most organized beach party in all of Utah which brings people and revenue to Washington County?

  • San June 13, 2014 at 8:39 pm

    It is a big deal…painful and expensive. My son wound up in the urgent care a few years ago and says he will not be attending the event tomorrow, even though I’m sure a lot of his friends will go. We’re not talking about a mild, red itchy rash…those bugs create red welts (in some people), which irritate beneath the skin and there is no topical cream out there that can numb them away. Add in the secondary infection, lost week and medical bills… thanks. Not going back there, and that is a shame. There’s got to be a natural predator out there!

  • Kate June 13, 2014 at 9:06 pm

    Unfortunately I was going to buy a pass last summer and spend my summer at the lake. That changed when my son and I both got swimmers itch. We will not be going back. Nor will we be buying a pass. If they don’t want to continue to lose money then something definetly needs to be done! Swimmers itch is like a mesquito bite that itches 20 times worse. They tell you not to itch the blisters but telling that to a child makes them miserable. Goes away in a few hrs ??? How about two weeks. For those of you who’ve had it bad enough know what I’m talking about. They need to clean the water.

  • Actually June 13, 2014 at 9:07 pm

    Actually, the parasite is a flatworm, not the picture that you have.

  • butterflyaway June 13, 2014 at 9:36 pm

    We spend a lot of time at Sand Hollow every year. Sometime we get the Swimmers Itch, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes some of us do and others don’t and we play in the same water. Two years ago, I had three kids that got it worse than the photo above and they were miserable before we even left the lake! Crying and in major pain. Teenagers! Not babies. Their entire bodies were red and swollen. Others in the group didn’t get it at all! My son and I went snorkeling two days ago and both of us started itching before we could pack up our stuff to leave. The spots started showing up in the car on the way home. In our experience, we never get it twice in the same summer. Once we get it, it seems we become immune to it until the next year. We realize that we are at risk when we go there and I wish it wasn’t an issue at all because it’s our favorite lake to go to. Wish there were better options to get rid of it! Because it DOES suck when you get it. But it’s not at all a secret that it’s there. And it’s a gamble because you never know if you will get it or how bad you’re gonna get it.

  • Michelle June 13, 2014 at 10:24 pm

    We were there on Saturday and Monday. I used insect repellent and didn’t get a single itch. My daughter however didn’t put insect repellent on and she is STILL covered from head to toe. We went to Quail yesterday and didn’t have any problems.

  • Mary Ellen Crase June 14, 2014 at 6:26 am

    My daughter went swimming at the lake on the hill in cedar city Monday and is still covered with them!!! No one warned us or said anything!!! This is the first I’ve heard of it!!! She is itching and scratching and horribly suffering… We’ve found cortisone is not useful but anti histamines are working for the itch she still looks like she’s got crazy chicken pox though!!

  • JOSH DALTON June 14, 2014 at 8:10 am

    See…and all my friends think I can’t swim because I don’t like to get in the lake. The last time I was boating the fish were all dead! I don’t swim in water that fish can’t even swim in. Then to add the flesh eating parasite to the mix. I don’t bundle my phone,cable or internet. So I would rather not start bundling now with dead fish and such.

  • Em June 14, 2014 at 9:09 am

    Chad Holmes is so right. “Itch” does NOT do this awful, miserable thing justice. I was only in the water 5-10 min with my baby before he started screaming bloody murder, and when I got us out it hit me too. Every inch of my body that had been in the water was on fire. Absolute misery. Then the spots showed up the next day and no, it doesn’t go away after 2-3 days. We were covered for almost 2 weeks. I will never swim there again!! Even the thought of that place makes me cringe now.

  • Mike June 14, 2014 at 9:24 am

    Amazing that CERTAIN people say stay out of Sand Hollow ugly hole in the ground…..your ignorance is telling.

  • K Peterson June 14, 2014 at 9:44 am

    its a big swimming pool, treat it like one, put bromine or chlorine in it, they treat it on the other end for drinking water why not on this end?

  • ecodude June 15, 2014 at 5:26 am

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  • Steve-o November 19, 2014 at 10:53 am

    For all those who suffer, you have my sympathy, If you can’t take the heat, stay out of the kitchen, leaving more room unimpeded by skiers and wave runners to fish the best bass fishery in the state.

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