Summer is 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. The Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology Inc. warns it can be contaminated with many germs that can cause recreational water illnesses.
Knowing the basic facts about recreational water illnesses can make the difference between an enjoyable time at the pool, beach or water park, and getting a rash, having diarrhea or developing another potentially serious illness.
Diarrhea is the most common recreational water illnesses. Swimmers who are sick with diarrhea — or who have been sick in the last two weeks — risk contaminating pool water with germs.
Certain germs that cause diarrhea can live from minutes to days in pools, even if the pool is kept clean and disinfected.
Infectious diarrhea can contain anywhere from hundreds of millions to 1 billion germs per bowel movement. Swallowing even a small amount of water that has been contaminated with these germs can make you sick.
Other recreational water illnesses including skin, ear, eye, respiratory, neurologic and wound infections are caused by germs that live naturally in the environment. 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 mists or aerosols of or have contact with 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 on what to look for before you go swimming to help you avoid a recreational water illness.
Before you go into the water 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 indicate presence of disease-causing germs that may have washed into the water.
Some things you should notice around pools:
- Clean and clear pool water. You should be able to clearly see any painted stripes and the bottom of the pool.
- 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.