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Don’t get Sick while Swimming this Summer

Precautions Urged to Prevent Water Illnesses

Tennessee Department of HealthNashville, TN – Taking a refreshing dip in a pool, lake or stream is a great way to beat the summer heat. However, recreational water can hold germs that can make people sick. The Tennessee Department of Health is sharing simple tips to help all Tennesseans stay safe and healthy when swimming this summer.

“Swimming is a great way to exercise, and offers numerous health benefits,” said Health Commissioner Susan R. Cooper, MSN, RN. “We want to remind everyone to take common sense precautions to protect their families from illnesses that can be spread in water and help keep swimming fun and healthy.”

Recreational Water Illnesses, or RWIs, are caused by germs that are spread by swallowing or having other contact with contaminated water in places such as swimming pools, water parks, hot tubs, interactive fountains, lakes, rivers, springs, ponds or oceans. RWIs cause several types of symptoms, including gastrointestinal, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic and wound infections. The most commonly reported RWI is diarrhea. Even healthy swimmers can get sick from RWIs, but the young, elderly, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems are especially at risk.

“When swimming in treated water such as a pool or water park, keep in mind that germs on and in swimmers’ bodies end up in the water and can make other people sick,” said State Epidemiologist Tim F. Jones, MD. “The best way to prevent RWIs is to keep germs out of the pool in the first place.”

Tennesseans can help keep our swimming destinations safe by following these healthy swimming steps.

  • Wash your child thoroughly (especially the rear end) with soap and water before swimming. Invisible amounts of fecal matter can end up in the pool.
  • Don’t swim if you have diarrhea.
  • Practice good hygiene. Shower with soap before swimming and wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers.
  • Take children on frequent bathroom breaks and/or check diapers often. Change diapers in a bathroom or diaper-changing area, not at poolside.

Bodies of water such as lakes, rivers and streams often contain some degree of bacteria. When swimming in streams, lakes or ponds, swim only in water that is not stagnant, has no significant algae or foam and is not polluted by livestock or waterfowl. Avoid swimming after heavy rainfalls or in areas identified as unsafe by TDOH or the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. TDEC provides a list of water advisories online.

Illnesses and outbreaks associated with recreational water vary from year to year. In 2010, there were no outbreaks caused by recreational water reported in Tennessee. Nationwide, illness caused by cryptosporidium and other waterborne pathogens such as E. coli and Norwalk-like viruses has been on the rise.

Regardless of the type of water you are swimming in, try not to swallow the water. Even treated water can still contain pathogens. If symptoms of gastrointestinal distress occur within a few days of swimming, contact your health care provider and consider having your stool tested for pathogens. Any illness or outbreak that is possibly caused by exposure to recreational water should be reported to your local health department.

For more information about healthy swimming, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Healthy Swimming website at
www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/, or the Environmental Protection Agency’s beaches website www.epa.gov/beaches.


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