Photo courtesy of BBC

Swimmer's itch (more formally known as cercarial dermatitis) is caused by the free-swimming larvae of bird parasites from the Schistosomatidae (Trematoda) family that have accidentally penetrated human skin rather than that of their intended avian hosts. During first infections, the larvae may not cause any symptoms though subsequent infections produce increasing severe immune responses. If the larvae are trapped by the immune system, each larva causes a maculopapular eruption. The larvae, or cercariae, are shed by aquatic snails while adults parasites live in anseriform birds. Experiments have shown that developing schistosomulae are able to survive for days or even weeks in mammals other than their intended avian hosts. However, because the environment in the human body is not conductive to the development of the cercariae, they are believed to eventually die.

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