By Leslie H. Dixon
OTISFIELD — Swimmers at the town beach are being asked not to feed the ducks.
A common parasite in warm waters that can cause “swimmer’s itch” and is usually carried by ducks and geese may have infiltrated the waters at the beach on the northern end of Pleasant Lake.
Otisfield Selectmen Chairman Hal Ferguson said Health Officer Beth Damon has been notified of the situation and signs have been ordered that will read, “Please Do Not Feed the Ducks,” in an attempt to send the birds flying.
Ferguson said there were about two dozen geese reported as ‘being there” recently and the beach was cleaned afterward.
“People have been bothering them especially the very young ones,” said Ferguson.
Swimmer’s itch, also known as duck itch, is produced by a parasite ducks and other birds and even mammals that spend their life in and around water carry. It infects snails, which then release it into fresh and salt water.
Officials say the parasite quickly multiplies in warm water fed by runoff from heavy rains and irritates human skin. The rash can last a week or more before going away.
According to information from the Department of Environmental Protection water quality division, cercariae penetrates the skin of bathers as water droplets dry.
As penetration occurs a prickly, or itching sensation occurs followed by general inflammation of the affected area. Small red dots appear at the site of penetration. Itching can be mild to severe and can last several days.
Further information on the cause and treatment of swimmer’s itch is available on the Center for Control Diseases webpage atwww.cdc.gov/parasites/swimmersitch/faqs.html.
It is not atypical for beaches to post warnings or even close when the situation gets to be a problem.
Deb Partridge, Norway’s recreation director, said they have not had the problem at Pennesseewassee Lake in several years but have been vigilant about making sure people are not feeding the ducks and the geese.
“It’s a parasite associated with ducks and snails. So if you have a lot of ducks and snails it happens,” Partridge explained.
“The best thing people can do is use an oil-based suntan lotion when they’re in the water and when they come out of the water to dry off immediately,” she said. “You want to just roughly dry off to take anything off.”
Partridge said there’s no reason to close the beach if the parasite arrives.
“It’s just good to be aware of it. The number one thing is for people not to feed the ducks so they don’t come into the swim beach area. If they stay out on the lake and you’re going to be fine,” Partridge said.
Pleasant Lake is four miles long and a mile wide. The 1,332-acre lake has a maximum depth of 62 feet, a mean depth of 29 feet, and water quality rating of excellent, as determined by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Excellent is the department’s highest rating.
Ferguson said he is not aware the problem existed in previous years but it’s possible because of the Pleasant Lake water level has been lowered because of the dam problem this year, that may be a contributing factor.
“I inspected the beach area on Sunday [June 26] and found no sign of potential problems,” Ferguson said of his inspection shortly after the Town Office was notified of the problem by an individual.
A couple of mothers and their children playing by the edge of the town beach last week, alongside a family of young geese, said they do not feed the geese or ducks but they did observe a woman throwing crackers to the birds earlier.
Resident and fisherman Gordon Chamberlain said he notified town officials after seeing mallards near the shore and hearing about what he said were “confirmed” cases of “duck itch” on bathers at the beach due to their exposure to the geese and duck parasite.
“I used to go down with a fly rod and fish, but I’m not doing that anymore,” he said.