Water, Water, Everywhere, But Is It Safe to Swim?
by Amy Scholten, MPH
People of all ages love to swim and relax in water. They flock to swimming pools, water parks and hot tubs. Lakes, rivers, and the ocean are popular too. Most times we take for granted that the water is safe. But, even with safety measures in place, water can cause illness. Here is what to know and how to protect yourself and your family.
What Causes Recreational Water Illnesses?
Swimming Pools, Water Parks, and Hot Tubs
In swimming pools, water parks, and hot tubs, the most common causes of water illnesses are:
Germs enter the water mostly from feces (poop). Vomit or blood in the water can also cause contamination.
Being in contaminated water can cause:
Chlorine can kill germs. However, sometimes pools are not properly maintained. They may need more chlorine or improvements in the filtering system. Chlorine also takes time to work. Some parasites live for several days after a pool has been disinfected.
If you use a public swimming pool, water park, or hot tub, check with management. Ask how they respond to contamination. They should have a plan in place that meets public health guidelines (such as from the CDC).
Stay Safe at the Beach
Contaminated lakes, rivers, and oceans can cause illness as well. Sewage (waste) is the most common cause. It can spread disease from bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and worms. And of course, open water is not chlorinated.
Before you go to your favorite beach, find out about the water quality. Ask your local public health officials:
Your favorite beach may not be checked regularly. In this case, take steps to protect yourself and your family, such as:
The Six Steps for Healthy Swimming
To keep yourself and your children healthy while swimming:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Environmental Protection Agency
Public Health Agency of Canada
Before you go to the beach. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/pdf/swimming/resources/epa-before-you-go-to-beach-brochure.pdf. Accessed October 26, 2021.
Cryptosporidiosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/cryptosporidiosis. Accessed October 26, 2021.
Healthy swimming. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/. Accessed October 26, 2021.
LEARN: What affects human health at the beach. Environmental Protection Agency website. Available at: https://www.epa.gov/beaches/learn-what-affects-human-health-beach. Accessed October 26, 2021.
Steps for healthy swimming. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/swimmers/steps-healthy-swimming.html. Accessed October 26, 2021.
Last reviewed October 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board
Last Updated: 10/26/2021
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