Crystal Lake and Watershed Association suspends bather itch control due to bird flu

the Crystal Lake and Watershed Association in Benzie County has worked for five years to reduce the likelihood of swimmer’s itch.

Now this year, their efforts are on hold due to the growing threat of bird flu.

“The control project is really great for capturing and relocating mergansers, which are hosts to this particular pest,” said Crystal Lake and Watershed Association President Dave Wynne. “We then relocate them to DNR-approved sites where they can live, but do not affect humans.”

The Association has been monitoring swimmer’s itch since 2017.

Concerns about the spread of bird flu forced the Michigan DNR to rescind its catch and release permits.

“We understand why they did it and the abundance of caution to prevent the spread of bird flu, obviously we’re very disappointed,” Wynne said. “We’re just going to have to do without trapping and relocating this year, and that’s going to lead to an increase in the incidence of swimmer’s itch this year and probably next year.”

When mergansers are not trapped, the cycle of the swimmer’s itch parasite continues.

“Adults will already have this parasite,” Wynne said. “When they defecate in the water they infect the snails, and when the snails are infected they get overloaded and release a whole bunch of parasites into the water which go looking for another duck to live in. The ducklings will be heavily infected or if they find a person, the parasite tries to burrow.

Wynne said the Association understands why it has to delay the screening project this year and hopes to continue with it next year.

“Our own grandchildren didn’t swim at Crystal Lake for a few years because of the fear of swimmers getting itchy,” he said. “When we dropped it, it was reduced by over 95% with this control process in place, then the kids came back, the volume of swimmers went up and everything was fine. We hope we can resume the process next year.

In the meantime, Wynne said he has suggestions for avoiding swimmer’s itch.

“The best thing for you is to wear a tight shirt, if you can, in the water, avoid going in the morning, because that’s when you’ll get the most, and avoid an offshore wind,” he said. mentioned.

The Michigan DNR released a statement about this decision:

The highly pathogenic avian influenza virus affects birds across North America, with detections in backyard flocks and commercial poultry facilities in 34 states and detections in wild birds in 35 states to date . HPAI is highly contagious and poultry are particularly vulnerable. Additionally, this viral strain also affects waterfowl, raptors, and scavengers. These groups of birds are particularly susceptible to the virus and high mortality rates have been reported. In Michigan, we have confirmed HPAI in 66 wild birds to date, with the outbreak continuing to spread across North America. HPAI has been identified in several species of wild birds in Michigan, including three hooded mergansers. Mergansers have also tested positive in other states, including Florida, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, New York, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. Some wild birds become ill and die, while others may become infected with HPAI and show no signs of illness.

The DNR developed a common merganser control program in response to several northern Michigan lakes that wanted to address swimmer itch issues. Previous research has found an association between common mergansers and the life cycle of a species of parasite causing swimmer’s itch. Under the following program and procedures, lakes may apply for permits to capture and move Common Merganser hens and their broods to approved sites. However, since the movement of wild birds can carry the disease to new areas, potentially exposing domestic poultry and vulnerable wild birds to the virus, the Department has canceled the capture and relocation of mergansers for 2022. The relocation presents the risk of transporting HPAI throughout the state. and facilitate the spread of the virus. It is crucial that we all work together to maintain the health and safety of Michigan’s domestic and wild bird populations.

This virus mainly affects birds, but it is important to remember that it can be a zoonosis or a disease transmitted from domestic or wild animals to humans. We ask the general public to avoid handling sick or dead wild birds. We welcome reports or sightings of sick or dead wild birds at local offices or by calling the Wildlife Disease Laboratory at 517-336-5030. We also encourage reporting through the DNR’s Eyes in the Field app. Choose the “sick wildlife” reporting option. For more information, please visit our website at