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'Swimmer's Itch' Won't Keep Westporters off Beach

WESPORT, Conn. – Growing up in Westport meant lying in the sun and taking a dip in the often murky waters of Long Island Sound at Compo Beach, say Liz Lindecke, 41, and sister Suzy Sodergren, 38.

The sisters were finishing a Fourth of July visit at the beach Tuesday with their parents, Edward and Carol Bloch. They weren't fazed by a newly released national report showing far higher levels of bacteria at Connecticut beaches last summer than in previous years.

The report, by the Natural Resources Defense Council, found Connecticut's coastal beaches in 2010 were shut down twice as often as in recent years. The report found higher than healthy levels of bacteria at Compo Beach and others in Fairfield County.

But Lindecke, who lives in Cleveland, and Sodergren, who lives in Albany, said they miss being a few minutes from the beach. "We never came here to swim so much as to lie in the sand, get some sun and take a short swim to cool off," said Sodergren, who came with daughters 12-year-old Emily and 9-year-old Abigail. "Where we live now there just aren't any beaches, so this is a real treat."

Lindecke was accompanied by her children Ryan, 10, Kyle, 8, and Lucy, 3. She said, "You're never going to confuse Long Island Sound with the smooth surf and sparkling blue water of beaches near the [open] ocean."

Though the report found 11 percent of samples at Fairfield County beaches last summer exceeding maximum bacterial standards – including 12 percent at Compo Beach – some beach-goers said they are used to a rash known as "Swimmer's Itch" that leaves red, blotchy patches or raised marks on the skin.

"It doesn't bother me," said Scott Edwards, 46, a Westport resident who plunged into the water Tuesday. "I already have some red marks on my arms, but it goes away. It's something you learn to accept."

Swimmer's itch is a rash caused by an allergic reaction to parasites that infect some birds and mammals, the report says. "Many Connecticut beaches are placed under advisory when swimmer's itch is reported," it says.

John Cimirosa, of the Westport-Weston Health District, said heavy rains can also wash bacterial runoff into the beach waters.

"We had a lot of rain last year and could explain the higher levels of bacteria in the study," he said.

Will the report about higher bacterial levels at Connecticut beaches stop you from swimming in Long Island Sound? Leave a comment below.

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