According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), in 2011-2012, 90 outbreaks resulting in 1,788 cases of recreational water illness and 95 hospitalizations were reported across the United States. Recreational water illness occurs when swimmers come in direct contact with contaminated water, and germs are swallowed or inhaled via water mist.
Diarrhea, most commonly caused by a parasite called cryptosporidium (crypto), is among the leading causes of waterborne illness. Other common ailments include pink eye, hot tub rash, and swimmer’s ear.
“Recreational water illness doesn’t have to put an end to the summer swimming we all love,” said Angela Hollis, MD, Area Medical Director for MedExpress.
“But it is something to be aware of and take proper precautions to prevent gastrointestinal problems or skin, ear, respiratory, and eye infections. Parents, swimmers, residential pool owners and public facility owners can all work together to keep pools and swimming areas safe.”
To stay healthy while swimming this summer, the CDC and MedExpress’ Dr. Hollis offer these tips:
- Take plenty of bathroom breaks – Urine and fecal matter are leading causes of water illness. Frequent bathroom breaks can help ensure there aren’t any accidents. Remember that toddler swimmer diapers are only effective for a limited time before they begin to leak. Check diapers in the restroom to keep germs away from the pool. Remember to always stay out of the water if experiencing diarrhea.
- Keep your mouth closed – Teach children to always swim with their mouth closed. Swallowing even a mouthful of contaminated water can result in illness.
- Check the pool first – In private pools and even public pools, check chlorine and pH levels before getting in the pool if possible. Many public swimming areas will often have levels posted. The CDC recommends 1-3 milligrams per liter of chlorine or a pH of 7.2-7.8 for effective germ killing. It may take time for chemicals such as chlorine or bromine to begin working. If used properly, they can kill most germs in a few minutes; however some germs, such as crypto, can live in properly treated pool water for several days.
- Your nose knows best – You should smell little or no chemical odor when swimming. If you smell a strong chemical smell, this is actually chlorine mixing with urine or fecal matter. These items, not chlorine, cause red eyes and irritation.
- Rinse and repeat – Keep human waste and dirt out of the water by showering or rinsing off before and after getting in the pool.