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Healthy Swimming TIps can Prevent Illnesses

Mon May 24, 2010

Healthy swimming behaviors prevent recreational water illnesses

The week before Memorial Day is National Recreational Water Illness (RWI) Prevention Week. The goal of this observance is to raise awareness about healthy swimming behaviors, including ways to prevent recreational water illnesses. RWIs are caused by germs spread by swallowing, breathing in mists or aerosols of, or having contact with contaminated water in swimming pools, water parks, hot tubs, interactive fountains, water play areas, lakes, rivers, or oceans.

RWIs can be a wide variety infections, including gastrointestinal, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic, and wound infections. The most commonly reported RWI is diarrhea. Diarrheal illnesses can be caused by germs such as Crypto (short for Cryptosporidium), Giardia, Shigella, norovirus and E. coli O157:H7. Most germs are killed by chlorine, but some germs, like Crypto, are resistant to chlorine and can live in pools for days. That is why even the best maintained pools can spread illnesses.  In the past two decades, there has been an increase in the number of RWI outbreaks associated with swimming.

Pool inspection data can help pool programs identify common health code violations and determine priorities for keeping their facilities healthy. Having the right disinfectant and pH levels in recreational water is essential to stopping the spread of germs that cause RWIs. Although pool inspectors check to make sure these levels are right, they can't be at every pool every day. To help ensure a healthy swimming experience every time, we are encouraging swimmers to follow the Triple A's of Healthy Swimming: Awareness, Action, and Advocacy.

  • Awareness. Visit CDC's Healthy Swimming website at http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming. Learn how to protect yourself and others from RWIs and follow the six steps for healthy swimming (listed below).
  • Action. Check pool water yourself using test strips purchased at your local hardware or pool supply store. Ask the pool operator about chlorine and pH levels and request information on the latest pool inspection score.
  • Advocacy. Encourage pool operators to take steps shown to kill the germs that cause RWIs. Educate other swimmers about RWIs to promote healthy swimming

The best way to prevent RWIs is to keep germs out of the pool in the first place. Follow these six steps for a safe and healthy swimming experience:

Three Steps for all Swimmers: Don't swim when you have diarrhea. Don't swallow pool water. Practice good hygiene. Shower with soap before swimming and wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers. Germs on your body end up in the water.

Three Steps for Parents of Young Children: Take your kids on bathroom breaks or check diapers often. Change diapers in a bathroom or a diaper-changing area and not at poolside. Wash your children thoroughly with soap and water before they go swimming.

DuPage County Health Department Environmental Health Services performs inspections on public pools, spas and beaches. For questions and information on recreational water safety and illness prevention, call the DuPage County Health Department at (630) 682-7400.

For more information about healthy swimming, visit: