Know the facts about recreational water illnesses

  • Wednesday, July 23, 2014


Whatís a summer vacation if itís not near the water? A cabin on the river, a cottage by the lake or a dip in the ocean for summer fun and relaxation.

But sometimes that inviting water, just like any public facility, can be contaminated with germs, and no one wants to contend with a recreational water illness, especially while on vacation.

The point is to be mindful and, if youíve been sick, to know the basic facts about recreational water illnesses.

The most common RWI is diarrhea.

Swimmers who are sick with diarrhea, or who have been sick in the last two weeks, risk contaminating swimming pool water with germs. Certain germs that cause diarrhea can live from minutes to days in pools, even if a pool is kept clean and disinfected.

If youíve had a pesky case of diarrhea in the last two weeks, stay out of the water. Otherwise, if youíre swimming, take a dip ó not a sip. Swallowing even a small amount of water that has been contaminated with these germs can make you sick.

The same advice applies to swimmers at oceans, lakes, and rivers. Because these bodies of water are not disinfected, they can be contaminated with germs from sewage spills, animal waste, water runoff and other incidents.

Many other recreational water illnesses, including those of the eye, skin, ear and respiratory and neurologic systems, are caused by germs that live naturally in the environment, such as water and soil.

If pools or hot tubs are not maintained and disinfected properly, these germs can multiply and lead to illnesses. Swimmers also can inhale mists or aerosols that can lead to infection.

Below are safety tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to make sure that the only thing you take out of the water is a feeling of relaxation.

At the beach or lake

Avoid swimming after a heavy rain.

Beware of storm drains (pipes that drain polluted water); do not swim near them.

Look out for trash and other signs of pollution such as oil slicks in the water. This may be a sign of disease-causing germs that may have washed into the water.

At the pool

Be sure that the water is clean and clear. You should be able to clearly see the pool bottom and any painted stripes or markers.

Smooth pool sides. Tiles should not be sticky or slippery.

No odor. A well-chlorinated pool has little odor. A strong chemical smell indicates a maintenance problem.

Pool equipment working. Pool pumps and filtration systems make noise, and you hear them running.

Remember Ė practice healthy swimming behaviors

Donít swim when you have diarrhea.

Donít swallow or get the water from pools, lakes, rivers or the ocean in your mouth.

Shower before swimming.

Wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers.

Take children on bathroom breaks, or check diapers often.

Change diapers in a bathroom and not at poolside, and thoroughly clean the diaper-changing area.

Now that youíre prepared with some facts for healthy swimming, enjoy your time in the water, whether youíre swimming laps for exercise or tubing down the river.

Angela Harris is the infection control manager for Georgetown Hospital System.

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