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Swimming-Related Illnesses

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Swimming-related illnesses are diseases that people can get from the water in which they swim and play—like swimming pools, hot tubs/spas, splash pads, or oceans, lakes, and rivers—if the water is contaminated with germs.


The most common symptoms caused by swimming-related illnesses are diarrhea, skin rashes, ear pain, cough or congestion, and eye pain.


Diarrhea is the most common swimming-related illness. People who are already sick with diarrhea can spread it to others when they get in recreational water.

People typically have about 0.14 grams of poop (similar to a few grains of sand) on their bodies at any given time. When a person who is sick with diarrhea gets in the water, that tiny amount of poop on their body can wash into the water around them and contaminate it with germs. If someone else swallows the contaminated water, they can become infected.


Other swimming-related illnesses—such as skin, ear, respiratory, eye, and other infections—can be caused by germs that naturally live in the water and soil. If the chemicals used to kill germs (chlorine or bromine) in pools, hot tubs, and water playgrounds are not kept at the right level, these germs can multiply and make swimmers sick.


Children, pregnant women, and people who have health problems or take medicines that lower their body’s ability to fight germs and sickness—such as people whose immune systems are weakened because of cancer, an organ transplant, or HIV—are most at risk for swimming-related illnesses.


The best way to prevent swimming-related illnesses from spreading is to keep germs out of the water in the first place. This means that if you or your child has been sick with diarrhea in the past two weeks, you should stay out of the water.


To protect yourself from the most common swimming-related illnesses:


--Keep water out of your mouth when you swim

--Dry your ears after you swim

--Disinfection with chlorine or bromine and pH is the first defense against the germs that cause swimming-related illnesses in pools, hot tubs/spas, and water playgrounds. At the recommended levels, chlorine or bromine can kill most germs in the water within minutes (some germs, such as Crypto, can live in properly treated water for days).


The most common swimming pool related illnesses are: (see attached chart for causal organisms and diseases)

--Acute gastrointestinal illness (such as diarrhea or vomiting)

--Skin illnesses (such as rash)

--Acute respiratory illness (such as cough or congestion)

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