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New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services

Frequently Asked Questions
  • How can I reduce the chance of getting sick from swimming at a beach?
    Here are some practical tips on how to protect yourself and others from getting sick when swimming.
    1. Donít swim if you have diarrhea.
    2. Wash your hands after swimming, after using the bathroom, or changing diapers.
    3. Donít swallow the water.
    4. Take bathroom breaks and check diapers every 60 minutes.
  • What should I do if I don't feel well after swimming in a lake or the ocean?
    If illness is severe, seek medical attention immediately. Then contact the NHDES Beach program at (603) 271-0698 as soon as possible and let them know where and when you were swimming. An illness report form can be found online on the Beach Inspection Program > Forms/Applications web page. The best possible actions can be taken if a report is filed and the beach program staff is informed of an illness the day it happens.
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  • Can conjunctivitis or an ear infection be caused by elevated amounts of E. coli?
    No. AlthoughE. coli does not cause these illnesses, it is possible to contract an illness related to the eyes, ears, nose and throat while swimming. This occurs because some illnesses can be transmitted via water if an individual who is infected goes swimming. While it is possible to catch an illness from someone else in the water, disease-causing organisms generally do not survive very long in that environment. These illnesses are not carried in fecal material, so it is not possible to detect them through E. coli testing.
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  • What is swimmers itch?
    Swimmers itch, or cercarial dermatitis, is a rash caused by an allergic reaction from contact with the shistosomes parasite. The adult parasite is typically found in the bloodstream of birds and mammals and is not parasitic to humans, nor causes diseases in humans. The eggs are passed in the feces of the host bird or mammal. If the eggs land in or are washed into a waterbody, they hatch, releasing small, free-swimming larvae. These larvae swim in the water in search of a certain aquatic snails. The larvae infect the snails and continue to develop and are released as a different larval form. The larvae swim through the water in search of a bird or muskrat host. Although the parasite can not use humans as a host, if one lands on a human, it will burrow into the skin causing an allergic reaction. The larvae dies shortly after contacting a human and only causes an allergic reaction.

    Swimmers itch generally occurs during the summer months and appears as itching, burning, or tingling of the skin within minutes or days after exposure. Small reddish pimples appear within 12 hours and may turn into small blisters. No treatment is required for the rash as it will go away on its own after a few days. Common anti-itch lotions used for skin rashes and irritations can be used to help soothe symptoms. Swimmers itch is not related to pollution or poor water quality and cannot be prevented. You can avoid exposure to swimmers itch by avoiding areas where it is a known problem, avoiding areas where Physid snails are common (such as near waterfowl feeding areas), and vigorously toweling off and showering soon after swimming. Never feed waterfowl as they will be attracted to these feeding sites and increase the potential of swimmers itch

    More information is available in the fact sheet: Swimmers Itch Adobe Acrobat Reader Symbol(Fact Sheet BB-13)

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  • Will I get Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) from being near a lake with a cyanobacteria bloom?
    Due to the release of ongoing research conducted by Dartmouth, there has been a significant amount of media attention surrounding the development of ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, from lake water. The link between ALS and specific cyanobacteria toxins has yet to be proven, and the individuals that are being studied typically made contact with cyanobacteria on a regular basis for many years, e.g., using lake water to shower, wash dishes, drink, etc. The NHDES Beach program recommends avoiding contact and ingestion of recreational water that is experiencing a cyanobacteria bloom as this may lead to human illness or the possible death of pets. The link between ALS and cyanobacteria toxins remains a hypothesis.
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NH Department of Environmental Services | 29 Hazen Drive | PO Box 95 | Concord, NH 03302-0095
(603) 271-3503 | TDD Access: Relay NH 1-800-735-2964 | Hours: M-F, 8am-4pm

copyright 2017. State of New Hampshire