Swim Clear of Recreational Water Illness This Summer

With summer in full swing, folks are jumping into their favorite lake, pond or swimming pool to beat the summer heat. And now is a perfect time to review some tips on prevention of spreading Recreational Water Illness (RWI).

Although there are many bugs found in swimming waters that can cause diarrhea, norovirus is one of the more common. Others include Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Shigella, and E. Coli. Some of these can survive, even in well-chlorinated pools, for several days. So it’s not surprising that unchlorinated waters can easily harbor these illness-causing bacteria or parasites.

Let’s take a closer look at norovirus. It is the second leading cause of interstitial illness in untreated swimming waters, mainly because it can survive for months, and sometimes even years.

A Case of Norovirus
In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported an outbreak of norovirus at Oregon Lake in Portland, Oregon. In the case of the Oregon Lake outbreak, officials believe someone who was sick with norovirus went swimming, and either had an episode of diarrhea or vomited in the water. Other swimmers then ingested the contaminated water and became sick themselves.

While nobody is immune to the spread of norovirus, children are particularly vulnerable to becoming sick after swimming in contaminated water, perhaps because they are more likely to swallow the water or get water in their mouth.

Preventing the Spread of Recreational Water Illness
So how do you prevent the spread and protect yourself from diarrheal illness this summer? If you are sick, or have been sick in the last two weeks, with diarrhea and vomiting, follow these tips:

  • Stay out of the water! This includes all swimming water, pools, lakes, and ponds.
  • It’s a misconception that using a lake or pond as a bathroom is okay because the fish and other animals do; it is NOT safe or okay. Never pee or poop in any water where people swim.
  • Never swallow water that people swim in.
  • Make sure kids get out of the water frequently for bathroom breaks.
  • Don’t let babies swim with diapers on. They can spread norovirus too by having a poopy diaper in the water.

Considering stool from an infected person contains millions to billions of bacteria, it only takes a small amount of feces left behind after a bowel movement to get washed off during swimming and contaminate the water. Like mom always said — “Don’t drink your bath water!”— or in this case, your swimming water.

Learn the basics of Recreational Water Illnesses.

Wollenweber, KaraKara Wollenweber, CNP, is a board-certified family nurse practitioner. Practicing in Perrysburg at ProMedica River Road Family Physicians, she is a primary care provider of patients of all ages.  Her focus with patients is on health promotion, and well care to improve the overall health of all of her patients. A graduate of the University of Toledo, she lives locally with her husband and two children.

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