By Julia Davis - July 1, 2016
Anyone who has ever had Swimmer’s Itch, or seen anyone with a particularly bad case, tends to become slightly obsessed with it for the next few weeks, or even years, afterward. Some people have their own philosophies of when is a good time to go in, when to avoid the water, and what the best remedies are if you get it. Meanwhile, others are so worried about getting it they have stopped going into Crystal Lake altogether and head to Lake Michigan beach instead. I spoke with CSA Waterfront Director Leslie Buntain-Ritter, CSA Waterfront Committee Chair Ann Burroughs, and Crystal Lake Watershed Association president Joel Buzzell to get a roundup of what is going on this season. As it turns out, there are plenty of ongoing efforts to research and manage Swimmer’s Itch in our lake and our waterfront staff have become very good at predicting when “the itch” will be severe. If you are smart about when you go in the water and make sure to protect yourself, it is possible to have a Swimmer’s Itch-free summer.
The biology: As you probably know, it’s a bit gross. The Swimmer’s Itch cycle starts when the parasite goes into the Merganser duck; the host. The duck defecates in the water, and the parasite eggs live in the duck’s feces. The eggs then hatch in the water and get inside of the snail. Cercariae (Swimmer’s Itch parasites) are released from the snail and into the water. They swim around looking for a host, and since the parasites are attracted to the lipids and oils in our skin, they swim right up to us. They penetrate a human’s skin, but since a human is not a suitable host, the parasite dies in our skin. The rash we get from Swimmer’s Itch is an allergic reaction from the parasite entering the skin and our immune system attacking it.
The Predictors: An onshore breeze is the main predictor of severe Swimmer’s Itch in the water. Leslie Buntain-Ritter pointed out that there is a statistics sheet at the Doghouse that anyone can look at. It has a record of the incidences of Swimmer’s Itch and the wind and temperature conditions on any given day. An onshore breeze is almost always a predictor of a high incidence of Swimmer’s Itch. In addition, Leslie goes in and tests the water herself daily before swimming lessons. If she starts feeling itchy, the waterfront staff makes a note on the whiteboard at the beach that Swimmer’s Itch could be severe that day. Swimming lessons are held on land if it seems like the dreaded Itch will be bad. The waterfront staff has worked hard at developing onshore activities to keep young swimmers engaged and still learning swimming skills even when going in the water is not an option. According to her, the bottom line is that the CSA waterfront staff is getting very good at predicting it, especially later in the day. And most days, we don’t have it.
History: Many people don’t remember ever having to worry about Swimmer’s Itch growing up, and they’re right – it wasn’t a problem in Crystal Lake until the 1990s. Ann Burroughs recalls taking her young son to a CSA ecology meeting after the first time he got a severe case. She used him as an “Exhibit A” to show the committee that Swimmer’s Itch was becoming a huge problem. The main theory as to why there wasn’t Swimmer’s Itch until then is that there was a ton of copper sulfate in the lake up until the 1990s. Copper sulfate is a chemical and it used to be poured in the lake to kill snails. We have since learned that copper sulfate is bad for the ecology of the lake, so that practice ended. However, with the end of using the copper sulfate, the rise of Swimmer’s Itch started. And thus began our summer battle with it.
Research: We are still fighting Swimmer’s Itch today. Rather than completely eradicating it, which would be nearly impossible, the current focus is on researching and managing it.
Maddy Messner of Oakland University is back for a second year of research regarding Swimmer’s Itch. She and her research colleagues are taking DNA samples and studying swimmer’s itch predictors. Her research is funded in part by the Crystal Lake & Watershed Association, another key player in the study and management of swimmer’s itch. According to Joel Buzzell, CLWA is funding a $60,000 project will allow us to define the various Swimmer’s Itch factors that contribute to this ongoing problem. This project will include a study on the snail infection rate, which is the best known gauge of the severity of the problem. This project will hopefully help CLWA to secure more funding for upcoming control programs. CLWA is also a founding member of the Michigan Swimmer’s Itch Partnership. Nineteen lakes are members of the partnership and they have actively involved the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Department of Environmental Quality, state senators and representatives, and university researchers from across the county and globally. Freshwater lakes across the globe struggle with Swimmer’s Itch, and it is not a problem the CSA can tackle alone.
Tackling the problem: Ann described three approaches to managing Swimmer’s Itch: targeting the ducks, targeting the snails, and protecting yourself. There have been various ways of targeting the ducks, both during the season and year round. Many locals, including Joel, have been given flare guns to shoot at Merganser ducks to scare them away. While these flare guns are non-lethal, there have also been efforts to persuade local hunters to shoot the ducks during hunting season. Mergansers are not an endangered species, so hunting them isn’t exactly a problem for the ecology. However, according to Ann they are terrible to eat. There have also been attempts made at relocating their nests, which she reports have been generally unsuccessful and the ducks just keep coming back. The next approach is targeting the snails and trying to disrupt their part of the cycle. Ann said that the typical way to do this is by raking the sand in the swimming area and stirring up the snails, thereby messing up their entire cycle. This process makes the Swimmer’s Itch absolutely terrible for about 24 hours afterwards, but after that period, the incidence of it seems to decrease. The third approach is to properly protect yourself from getting it. Because the parasite is attracted to the oils in our skin, forming a barrier on your skin helps. Slathering on layers of sunscreen on your skin and under your swimsuit – yes, they can get through that – is the best way to prevent it. Leslie recommends using long-lasting sunscreen, which is waterproof for at least 90 minutes. Bullfrog sunscreen or regular sunscreen with a few drops of citronella work best. Taking an antihistamine like Zyrtec, Allegra, or Benadryl in the morning before you go in the water has also been fairly successful. This works because the rash you get from Swimmer’s Itch is an allergic reaction. If you get a bad case, there are treatments available in the Doghouse, such as vinegar and rubbing alcohol. Rubbing these on your skin after getting out may help symptoms. Taking Benadryl after getting swimmer’s itch also helps stop the itching.
Rules to live by:
Do not take a warm bath or put your child in a warm bath to try to stop the itching. Allergic reactions get worse when they’re in warm water
Do not feed the ducks you see on Crystal Lake
Do not go swimming on a day with an onshore breeze
Do report report report. We are the only place on the lake that records data about this. If you get Swimmer’s Itch, report it to a lifeguard and sign the sheet in the doghouse
More information: http://www.swimmersitchcontrol.com/education/
Photos by Liv Buzzell - http://obandcoproductions.com/
By Julia Davis - June 16, 2016
If the CSA has any living legends, then Ken Cox is certainly one of them. Even before becoming director 15 years ago, Ken was known around the CSA not only because he was the athletic director for over two decades but also because of his numerous roles in the operettas and directing the choir. A lifelong CSAer (he used to work as a college student at the now defunct gas station behind the Crystal View) on the off season Ken was a professional opera singer for 20 years. He now chairs the voice department and is the director of the opera theatre program at Colorado’s University of Denver. CSA communications intern Julia Davis spoke with him about getting the CSA ready for summer, chasing raccoons out of cottages at 2am and his most memorable operetta. Excerpts:
How do you get the CSA summer ready?
In February, I call the chairs or directors of the programs and we discuss employees for the summer. Contracts usually go out in early March to about 40 people. I’ll probably get the choir music together this weekend, and next week I’ll have a clean up party at the meeting house. I’ll probably have about a dozen people come out and help. Every summer it seems like people show up who don’t know somebody else and so they’ll start talking and figure out how their families go way back [and] it’s fun just listening to the conversations.
What do you think is the most difficult thing to do in the preseason?
In terms of hours and labor, getting all the buoys out for the sailboats and the motorboats, and getting the lifeline out. This year I’ve got a brand new volunteer - Jason Burt, one of our youngest trustees, and his dad, Jay. That’s a big job, working in the cold water out there, but they’re just going at it. The more people I can get involved helping at the assembly, the greater sense of community we have.
Is being the managing director a 24-hour job?
It is, but not working all the time. You have to be on call. Some summers ago, I got a call around 2am about a raccoon in a cottage. So, I went over there with my long-handled-fishing net. They had a dog that was barking and there was this poor little raccoon all curled up in the corner like, “please don’t eat me, dog.” I dimmed the lights and the raccoon started to relax and I tried to feed it a little bread. But it was pretty traumatized, so I very carefully helped it into the fishing net, opened one of the windows, put it out on the ground and it happily walked off into the woods.
How has the CSA changed over the years?
Some traditions we don’t do quite the same way anymore. For example, on the 4th of July we would have games on the ball field, which we still do, but then afterwards half of the field would be taken up with people sitting on their blankets and eating picnic lunches and just visiting with each other. Some of the activities have changed, some have disappeared, and we’ve got some new activities. I once [overheard] one young dad saying to another, “You know, there aren’t places like this anymore.” And I thought, “That’s exactly right.” The Assembly really is a place that time has forgotten.
Tell me a bit about your career as a singer.
I went to Wheaton College and was a voice major, but I was determined to not sing opera. I couldn’t believe that people wanted to be involved in opera because it was so archaic. I ended up winning the National Association of Teachers of Singing central regional auditions as a junior singer. People came up to me afterwards and they told me what a great operatic career I had in front of me, and I was like, “Oh no, opera.” But my voice teacher took me to an opera in Chicago, and I was mesmerized by the voice of the dramatic soprano. So when I did my Masters at Indiana University, I did a lot of opera. I went from the smaller regional U.S. companies to the larger houses in this country, and then to singing in Europe. I sang and travelled for 20 years. Cindy and I got to see the world.
Do any highlights from traveling the world come to mind?
Oh yeah, a lot of them. I sang in Sydney, Australia [in] a wonderful production of “The Return of Ulysses” by Claudio Monteverdi. It was right around New Years, and I remember being invited by the mayor to be his guest on the patio of the Sydney Opera House. There was the most amazing fireworks display I have ever seen.
Which operetta sticks out most to you?
I’d have to say the first time we did “South Pacific” in the early 1980s. Molly Sturges, a 15-year old at the time, showed up for the tryouts. She sang the song “I’m Gonna Wash That Gray Right Out of My Hair” because it was a commercial for Clairol hair coloring. We gave her the part because she was so good. I was directing the music and singing the lead. I used all of my friendships [to get people involved], so we had a great chorus. We had guys you would never normally see up on stage. We did two performances and every seat inside was taken; people were crammed in the pews, sitting on the windowsills and it was about five deep all the way around the outside with people looking in. That’s the one out of all the others that stands out for me.