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Expert Alert

U of M experts available to discuss healthy outdoor swimming practices

June 28, 2010

Many Minnesotans will be jumping into a lake or river this Fourth of July weekend to cool off and refresh. But there may be a thing or two lurking in the water that will be neither cool nor refreshing.

University of Minnesota experts who can comment on common summer swimming nuisances such as algae and swimmer’s itch are:

Jim Cotner, professor of ecology, University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences

Cotner says the kinds of waters one should avoid are ones that (1) have an ‘off’ odor; (2) have lots of visible algae – either floating in the water or suspended in it; and (3), particularly important, have strong currents – this is mostly a concern for drowning, typically a much bigger hazard than contaminated water. “In short, my advice on these sort of things is to follow your instincts – if the water seems 'yucky', it probably is,” Cotner says.

Barb Liukkonen, water resources specialist, University of Minnesota Extension

Liukkonen says swimmer's itch is common around Minnesota's lakes in midsummer, making itself noticed by red, itchy welts appearing on an affected swimmer’s skin within several hours of leaving the water. It may last a few days to several weeks, depending on one’s sensitivity. She says swimmers can reduce their chances of getting severe swimmer's itch by following these simple guidelines:

- Dry off as soon as you leave the water. Rub skin briskly to remove water drops before they evaporate. Be sure to dry underneath waistbands and around leg openings. Encourage children to dry off thoroughly each time they leave the water.
- Shower with soap and fresh water or change into dry clothes as soon as possible.
- Don't wade or play in shallow water. Swimming from a raft or pontoon minimizes your exposure.
- Don't feed geese and ducks near your beach. Waterfowl are an adult host for the parasites.

To interview Cotner or Liukkonen, contact Jeff Falk at (612) 626-1720 or

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