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Summer Safety – Recreational Water Illness

With swimming hitting the charts as one of the most popular sports activities in the United States, it’s important to be aware of the potential hazards different bodies of water you and your family might be swimming in this summer.

You may be wondering what exactly recreational water illnesses (RWI) are. According to WebMD, “RWI refers to any illness or infection caused by organisms that contaminate water in pools, lakes, hot tubs, and oceans, resulting in diarrhea, skin rashes, swimmer's ear, and other conditions.”

One of the best defenses against these illnesses is education and preparation. WebMD also tells us that Infection-producing germs that might be present in water include Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which causes swimmer's ear and skin rash.

Many people believe that chlorine and other chemicals kill germs on contact. This, however, is untrue. The time it takes to kill different germs varies. For example, Cryptosporidium, the germ that causes diarrhea, can survive in a properly chlorinated pool for days. As such, it is very important to make sure no one in your family swims while suffering from diarrhea. Also, be sure to rinse everyone off after exiting the pool, and ensure that no one drinks the water while swimming.

Those most likely to become ill from RWIs include children, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems. Medicinenet.com brings us six steps for healthy swimming:

For all swimmers:

  • Don't swim when you have diarrhea. You can spread germs in the water and make other people sick.
  • Don't swallow the pool water. Avoid getting water in your mouth.
  • Practice good hygiene. Shower with soap before swimming and wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers. Germs on your body end up in the water.

For families with young children:

  • Take your kids on bathroom breaks or check diapers often. Waiting to hear "I have to go" may mean that it's too late.
  • Change diapers in a bathroom or a diaper-changing area and not at poolside. Germs can spread in and around the pool.
  • Wash your child thoroughly (especially the rear end) with soap and water before swimming. Invisible amounts of fecal matter can end up in the pool.

It is very important to stay educated regarding recreational water illnesses and your family’s health and safety. For further reading, please see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention article entitled “Basics of Recreational Water Illnesses (RWIs)”. This site will stay up to date regarding new and developing RWIs.