Recreational Water Illnesses: That's A Mouthful!
Ah! There’s nothing like being by the water! Summer is a great time to lounge by the pool, camp next a lake, or enjoy the day at a water park. But what is that lurking in the water? Recreational water illnesses (RWI) are caused by germs and chemicals found in the water we swim in.
Diarrhea is the most common RWI. Swimmers who are sick with diarrhea, or who have been sick in the last two week, risk contaminating pool water with germs. Crypto, short for Cryptosporidium, a microscopic parasite, is the leading cause of swimming pool-related outbreaks of diarrheal illness. It can stay alive for days in well-maintained pools and can cause prolonged diarrhea (for 2-3 weeks). Giardia, another type of parasite, can also cause swimming pool-related outbreaks of diarrheal illness. It has a tough outer shell that allows it to survive for up to 45 minutes, even in properly chlorinated pools. (A parasite is an organism that lives on or in a host organism, and gets its food from or at the expense of its host.) Other dangerous germs that can cause diarrhea include Shigella, norovirus, and E. coli O157:H7. Swallowing just a little water that contains these germs can make you sick. These organisms can be found in pools, water parks, hot tubs, lakes, streams, and oceans.
Hot Tub Rash is primarily caused by the bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa and staphylococcus species. Symptoms include
· Itchy, bumpy red spots on the skin
· Worse in areas that were covered by a swimsuit
· Pus-filled blisters around hair follicles (where the hair grows out of)
Most rashes clear up in a few days without medical treatment. However, if your rash lasts longer than a few days, consult your healthcare provider.
Legionnaire’s Disease is a type of pneumonia caused by the Legionella bacterium. It is naturally found in water, especially warm water. Hot tubs that are not cleaned and disinfected enough can become contaminated with Legionella. A person can get infected when they breathe in steam or mist from a contaminated hot tub. It can also be found in cooling towers, plumbing systems, and decorative pools or fountains. (Legionella is not spread from person to person.) Because high water temperatures make it hard to maintain the disinfectant levels needed to kill it, making sure that the hot tub has the right disinfectant and pH levels is essential.
Chemical irritation of the eyes and lungs can result from chlorine exposure. Chlorine is commonly added to the water to kill germs. The problem comes when choline combines with what comes off our body: urine, stool (poop), sweat, skin cells, and personal care products. First, there is less free chlorine available to kill germs. Second, chemical irritants called chlorimines are formed. If you smell chlorine where you’re swimming, you are most likely smelling chloramines. Chloramines in the water can turn into gas in the surrounding air. Breathing in these gases can cause
· Nose irritation
· Red and stinging eyes
· Skin irritation and rashes
Swimmer’s Ear, also known as otitis externa, is an infection in the ear canal. It is caused by leaving contaminated water in the ear after swimming. Symptoms include
· Itchiness inside the ear
· Redness and swelling of the ear
· Pain when the infected ear is tugged or when pressure is placed on the ear (such as when you lay on it)
· Pus draining from the infected ear
To reduce the risk of Swimmer’s Ear:
· Keep your ears as dry as possible
· Dry your ears thoroughly after swimming or showering
· Don’t put objects in your ear canal (including cotton-tip swabs, pencils, paperclips, or fingers)
· Don’t try to remove ear wax. Ear wax helps protect your ear canal from infection
· Talk with your healthcare provider about using ear drops after swimming
· Consult your healthcare provider if you have ear pain, discomfort, or drainage from your ears
To Protect You From RWI:
· Stay out of the water if you have diarrhea or have had diarrhea in the last 2 weeks
· Stay out of the water if you have an open wound (for example, from surgery or a piercing) that is not covered with a waterproof bandage
· Use the toilet before getting into the water
· Shower before you get in the water. Rinsing off in the shower for just 1 minute removes most of the dirt or anything else on your body
· Don’t swallow the water
· Wear a bathing cap while in the water
· Tell the lifeguard or pool operator immediately if you see poop in the water, smell chemical odors in the swimming area, or experience respiratory, eye, or skin irritation that could be linked to the water or the air surrounding the water
· Take children on bathroom breaks every 60 minutes or check diapers every 30–60 minutes. Change diapers in a bathroom and not at poolside
· Wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers
· Shower after you get out of the water with soap and water
· Clean your swimsuit after getting out of the water
· Ask if your local beach water quality is monitored. If so, check out the latest results
To learn more about Recreational Water Illnesses, visit the CDC at https://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/swimmers/rwi.html