Beachgoers, Beware of Recreational Water Illnesses

Summer is here — the time to get out and enjoy the weather and get into the water. But don’t let all that beautiful blue water fool you: it can be contaminated with many germs that can cause recreational water illnesses (RWI).
Diarrhea is the most common RWI. Swimmers who are sick with diarrhea risk contaminating pool water with germs, even if the pool is kept clean and disinfected. Swallowing even a small amount of water that has been contaminated with these germs can make you sick. Microscopic amounts of fecal matter rinse from everyone who swims through water — that is why it is so important to stay out of swimming pools if you are sick with diarrhea (or have had it within the last two weeks).
Many other RWIs (skin, ear, eye, respiratory, neurologic, wound, and other infections) are caused by germs that live naturally in water and soil. If disinfectant levels in pools or hot tubs are not maintained at the appropriate levels, these germs can multiply and cause illness when swimmers breathe in or have contact with the contaminated water.
Oceans, lakes, and rivers can be contaminated with germs from sewage spills, animal waste, water runoff following rainfall, and fecal incidents. It is important to avoid swallowing the water because natural recreational water is not disinfected. Here are a few tips to help you avoid recreational water illnesses:
• Avoid swimming after a heavy rain.
• Do not swim near storm drains (pipes that drain polluted water).
• Look out for trash and other signs of pollution such as oil slicks in the water.
• You should be able to clearly see any painted stripes and the bottom of a swimming pool.
• The sides of pools should feel smooth, not sticky or slippery.
• A well-chlorinated pool has little odor. A strong chemical smell indicates a maintenance problem.
• You should be able to hear the sound of pool pumps and filtration systems operating.
• Don’t swim when you have diarrhea.
• Avoid swallowing or getting water from pools, lakes, rivers, or oceans into 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. Thoroughly clean the diaper changing area.

The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology ( is the leading professional association for infection preventionists (IPs). Our mission is to create a safer world through the prevention of infection.

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