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Swim at Hunter Springs leaves kids with itchy rash

Signs at the park warn swimmers that they could get a rash, but a mom says she didn't see them. Meanwhile, the cause of the skin ailment is unknown.

[Times photo: Steve Hasel]
Four of the children who swam at Hunter Springs and broke out in a rash the next day are, left to right, Brittany Jones, 11, her brother, Brandon, 9, and their friends Jake, 7, and Brittany, 10, Sanow. The rash lasts for a few days and is treatable with over-the-counter allergy medicines and lotions.

By BRIDGET HALL GRUMET

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 7, 2001


CRYSTAL RIVER -- Brittany Jones' swim lasted for just an hour Saturday, until her skin felt so itchy that the 11-year-old had to get out of the water at Hunter Springs Park.

Brittany woke up the next morning with red, blistery bumps all over her arms and chest. So did the four children she swam with Saturday, and none of them could stop scratching.

"The first night, it literally kept my daughter up all night itching," said Brittany's mother, Monica Jones. "My daughter's absolutely miserable."

The culprit: the water at Hunter Springs, where signs have warned swimmers for the past few years that they could get an "irritating skin rash" if they venture in.

The rash lasts for a few days and is treatable with over-the-counter allergy medicines and lotions. A handout from the county health department says the itching can be "extremely annoying" but that there is no health danger.

The health department has received about eight calls this year about swimmers who developed a rash from the springs, a number that environmental manager Jim Rashley considers normal for this time of year.

"Right now, it hasn't been that big of a problem," Rashley said. "It's classified as an average year at this point."

photo
[Times photo: Steve Hasel]
A sign warns of the possibility of an itchy skin rash from swimming at the park in Crystal River. Health officials do not know exactly what causes it.
Most of the rash reports come in June and early July, although officials do not know exactly what causes the rash, said David Conrad, an environmental supervisor at the county health department's Division of Environmental Health.

The rash could be a form of swimmer's itch, a condition in which people can develop red, raised bumps after wading in parasite-ridden waters. With swimmer's itch, the itch comes from the tiny worm-like parasites that burrow into human skin, where they eventually die. The parasites cannot be passed from person to person, health department nursing director Nancy Davis said.

While the swimmer's itch symptoms match those of Brittany Jones and the other children, Conrad said there is no proof that those parasites live at Hunter Springs.

"The parasites live in snails. We've looked at the snails (at Hunter Springs), and the snails we captured did not have the organism in them," Conrad said. "It may be something else. "

That answer doesn't satisfy Monica Jones, whose 9-year-old son, Brandon, also developed a rash. Nor does it satisfy her friend Marla Sanow, whose 10-year-old daughter, Brittanyl, 7-year-old son, Jake, and 7-year-old niece, Alexis, also got the rash.

"I think (Hunter Springs) should be closed," Jones said. "I don't want anybody else's kids to end up like mine."

"It shouldn't be open if it does this to kids," Marla Sanow added.

Despite their complaints, the city of Crystal River has no plans to close the swimming area.

Bill Davis, supervisor of facilities maintenance, said the city already has signs at the park urging swimmers to use sunscreen and shower after swimming to avoid getting the rash.

Rashley said the health department is monitoring the rash cases as well as the bacteriological levels at Hunter Springs.

Tests done in late May showed that the springs had more than the acceptable level of fecal coliform bacteria, suggesting that the waters may not be safe for swimming. If a second round of tests confirm that the levels are too high, Rashley said, the health department will close the swimming area.

Monica Jones knew the springs had been closed before for brief periods when the bacteria levels were too high, but she figured the water was fine now that the springs were open.

As far as the rash, Jones said she had never heard of it and never saw the warning signs. Jones said her children wore sunscreen and showered after swimming -- and they still ended up with the rash.

"I thought if it was open, it was safe," Jones said.

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