Water, Water, Everywhere, But Is It Safe to Swim?

girl swimming 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, such as parasites and bacteria
  • Excessive chlorine and indoor air irritants

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:

  • Which beaches do you monitor and how often?
  • Where can I see the test results? Who can explain them to me?
  • What are the main sources of pollution at this beach?

Your favorite beach may not be checked regularly. In this case, take steps to protect yourself and your family, such as:

  • Do not swim after heavy rain.
  • Do not swim near storm drains at the beach.
  • Ask if there are pump-out stations for boats.
  • Be aware of trash and signs of pollution, such as oily water.
  • Report any suspected beach contamination. Contact health or environmental protection officials.
  • Work with authorities to create a beach monitoring program.

The Six Steps for Healthy Swimming

To keep yourself and your children healthy while swimming:

  1. If you or your child have diarrhea, do not swim. Feces (poop) can leak into the water through diapers. This can happen even in diapers made for swimming. This can make others sick.
  2. Do not drink the water or let water get in your mouth. Teach this to children, as well.
  3. Bathe with soap before swimming. Wash your hands after using the toilet or after changing a baby’s diaper.
  4. Take your children to the bathroom often.
  5. Do not change diapers by the side of the pool.
  6. Bathe your children before they get in the water. Rinse after getting out as well.


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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