Schistosomes in the southwest United States and their potential for causing cercarial dermatitis or 'swimmer's itch'

J Helminthol. 2009 Jun;83(2):191-8. doi: 10.1017/S0022149X09308020. Epub 2009 Apr 15.


Cercarial dermatitis or swimmer's itch results when cercariae of schistosomes penetrate human skin and initiate inflammatory responses. The parasites typically die in the skin but in some cases may persist and infect other organs. Cercarial dermatitis is caused by a complex and poorly known assemblage of schistosome species, and can occur in any location where people come in contact with water bodies harbouring schistosome-infected snails. In North America, most cases are reported from the upper Midwest. In south-western USA, this phenomenon has not been well studied, and it is not known which schistosome species are present, or if cercarial dermatitis occurs with any regularity. As part of our ongoing studies of schistosome diversity, using morphological traits and sequence data to differentiate species, we have thus far identified eight schistosome genetic lineages from snails from New Mexico and Colorado. We have investigated two cercarial dermatitis outbreaks, one occurring in Stubblefield Lake in northern New Mexico, and one in Prospect Lake in the heart of Colorado Springs, Colorado. The New Mexico outbreak involved either one or two different avian schistosome species, both transmitted by physid snails. The Colorado outbreak was due to Trichobilharzia brantae, a species transmitted by geese and the snail Gyraulus parvus. These outbreaks are in contrast to those in northern states where schistosomes infecting snails of the family Lymnaeidae are more often responsible for outbreaks. Our survey suggests that dermatitis-causing schistosomes are not rare in the southwest, and that there are plenty of opportunities for dermatitis outbreaks to occur in this region.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Colorado / epidemiology
  • DNA, Helminth / genetics
  • DNA, Ribosomal Spacer / genetics
  • Dermatitis / etiology*
  • Fresh Water
  • Humans
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • New Mexico / epidemiology
  • Schistosoma / anatomy & histology
  • Schistosoma / genetics
  • Schistosoma / isolation & purification*
  • Schistosomiasis / epidemiology
  • Schistosomiasis / parasitology
  • Schistosomiasis / veterinary*
  • Skin Diseases, Parasitic / etiology*
  • Snails / parasitology*
  • Swimming*


  • DNA, Helminth
  • DNA, Ribosomal Spacer