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Concerns about rashes at White Lake, North Carolina addressed by Bladen Public Health Department

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Recently the Bladen Public Health Department, upon reports of skin rashes occurring in some swimmers at White Lake, took two water samples to test for commonly occurring bacteria that may cause such symptoms.  Although this is not normally our expertise and/or scope of involvement to do testing of open natural bodies of water, we felt it may be helpful to all stakeholders and add beneficial information.  We also wanted to use an abundance of caution and fulfil our responsibility of investigating human health concerns affecting the community.

The two water samples were tested by the NC State Laboratory for Public Health (NCSLPH) and looked for Enterococci bacteria and Pseudomonas Auruginosa (PA) bacteria.  The level of Enterococci was well within normal range at 20.1, 35 or above being commonly considered high according to the NCSLPH.  The level of Pseudomonas Auruginosa indicated a high level in this sample.  This bacteria is usually indicated in rashes resulting from under-treated or ill-treated hot tubs and swimming pools according to the US Centers for Disease and Control (CDC), and the same conditions can occur in warm waters of natural lakes and ponds.  While there are no definite levels considered high for PA, which is common in all environments including soil and water, a high level in a natural body of water may be to blame.  No laboratory results from human patients confirming the presence of Enterococci or PA have been reported to us to date.

Importantly, with respect to these two water samples, they are isolated “snap shot” samples from one area of the lake where many of the reports of rashes came from, and do not indicate the conditions of the lake as a whole, or even necessarily the conditions of the water in that particular location for any period of time.

There is a different possible cause of the recent rashes reported – a microscopic parasite causing a condition commonly referred to as “swimmer’s itch”.  Cercarial Dermatitis is commonly found in some waterfowl and mammals according to the CDC.  Further investigation by those most qualified to examine such issues in natural bodies of water may reveal whether this is a plausible explanation.

Bladen Public Health will of course continue to take new reports of human health issues potentially related to White Lake.  We will defer to more qualified personnel regarding questions about the water quality of the lake itself as we do not have the expertise in monitoring or managing open natural bodies of water.  We do not anticipate issuing any public health advisories about White Lake at this time as the symptoms reported do not show evidence of serious illness and we cannot predict with any certainty where and/or for how long such a risk exists.

Bladen Public Health looks forward to working with all stakeholders to maintain the healthy and enjoyable conditions at White Lake many generations have enjoyed over many years.