Testing for 'Swimmer's Itch' To Be Done Before Next Russian River Mud Run

Organizers say they had no idea about the rash or what caused it before the Oct. 28 event.


Organizers of the First Annual Russian River Mud Run say they will be doing extensive testing of all water and mud obstacles on the race course after an estimated two dozen runners reported symptoms of "Swimmer's Itch."

Little is known about the skin rash, said to be caused by a parasite and usually resulting in intense itching for about a week.

"Our next step is to figure out a way to test for it," race co-organizer Steve Martin said. "People swim in the Russian River all the time, so it's hard to say it came from there.

"We will be testing all our manmade mud and water obstacles, and we will have special soaps available at the end," he said. "We really want people to have a fun event and we don't want them to go away with this kind of memory of it."

More than 1,000 runners registered for the Oct. 28 5-kilometer or 10-kllometer races which cross the Russian River and more than a dozen man-made obstacles on the bucolic 360-acre grounds of Rio Lindo Adventist Academy in Healdsburg.

The race, a mini-version of the Tough Mudder extreme outdoor sport craze that is sweeping the nation and the world, is a fundraiser for Rio Lindo's community ministry for the homeless, Open Table.

"We sold out in three weeks," Martin said. "We were pretty surprised."

Lori Richards said her son, a student at Sonoma State University, went on a medical and emotional odyssey after the event when he experienced itching that wouldn't quit.

Richards said he went three times to the student clinic at SSU, twice to the emergency room at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital and once to a dermatologist before finding a diagnosis of "Swimmer's Itch" on an online blog.

"He has been emotionally affected by this discomfort and it is unknown by the medical profession," Richards said. "Here we are a week later and going only by bloggers' recommendations."

Martin said no one had any knowledge of Swimmer's Itch prior to the event -- in fact, many people thought they had contracted poison oak, he said.

On the Russian River Mud Run group Facebook page, one person posted:

"Does anyone else have super bad poison oak and a majorly bruised backside from the slip and slide obstacle?"

One person responded: "Would anyone mind sending pictures so I could compare it to what mine looks like? I could return pictures as well! It's just so bad that I can't believe this happened to all of us."

Scott Keneally, a Healdsburg writer whose investigative story on the Tough Mudder craze ran in Outside Magazine and was reported in the North Bay Bohemian, said the apparent "Swimmer's Itch" outbreak locally was news to him.

Keneally ran in the Russian River Mud Run and said he had no problems afterward.

"I haven't heard anything about this," Keneally said. "And I didn't experience it myself.

"Tough Mudder fielded complaints of participants contracting e-Coli at a race in Scotland earlier this year though," Keneally said.

Martin said about 130 Rio Lindo students and staff who were working at the Mud Run ran the course themselves later in the day on Oct. 28. Of those, two reported a skin rash, he said.

Martin said it was not clear if those two people contracted Swimmer's Itch since they had been working in the woods to set up the race earlier and it could have been poison oak.

He said he and co-organizer Orhan Sarabi, of the Santa Rosa Marathon, will be doing whatever they can to investigate the problem and look at ways to prevent it for the next Mud Run, scheduled in May.

"We're definitely sorry this happened," Martin said. "We'd love to do this event again; we hope people will trust us to do it again."

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