Do Not Drink the Water

Those happy days of summer spent splashing in the pool without a care in the world may not be so carefree. The closing of public pools because of contamination brought Recreational Water Illnesses (RWI) to the forefront. RWIs occur when swallowing or having some contact with water that is contaminated with pathogens (germs). These pathogens may be bacteria such as shigella and E. coli, or parasites such as Cryptosporidium, Giardia or even some viruses. The most frequent symptom is diarrhea along with fever, vomiting and stomach cramps. After exposure to polluted water, skin, eye, ear and respiratory symptoms are all indicative of a possible infection.
One of the most common ways these germs are spread is from humans suffering with diarrhea entering the water. Even barring the occasional “accident,” anyone with recent diarrhea will have enough germs on their bottom to easily contaminate the water supply. To lessen the probability of becoming ill from RWIs, do not swallow the water! Even a small amount can be devastating. Many people think pool water is safe because it has been treated. On the contrary, some of these pathogens can live for several days in chlorinated water. Even with a perfectly maintained pool, it is impossible to prevent all RWIs because you cannot control every circumstance of what gets into the water.
Therefore, if swimming in a public pool, please remember that it is a communal venue. If someone is ill or careless, you may not know it. It is not always evident when fecal material gets in the water. Water that is treated with chlorine is not a substitution for good personal hygiene. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) recommends showering with soap and water before swimming. Wash your hands after using the bathroom. Please consider others and do not swim if you are ill with diarrhea. Parents of small children need to be especially vigilant and offer frequent potty breaks to avoid accidents in the water. Clean the bottom with soap and water before entering the pool.
Swimming pools are not the only water venues susceptible to this problem. Hot tubs and Jacuzzis are particularly vulnerable to the spread of waterborne diseases because the high temperature of the water causes the chlorine to evaporate more quickly. Lakes, rivers, springs or ponds carry an even higher risk. Any number of pollutants can foul the water such as sewage, animal waste or even a heavy runoff from a recent rain. It may be inconvenient to practice due diligence when the water and good times beckon. However, being careful may not only keep others from becoming ill, it will keep you safer, too.

Written by Betty Tryon, R. N.

This article is for general information only and does not constitute medical advice. Consult with your physician if you have questions regarding this topic.