Illness prevention for swimmers1

Swimming can be an enjoyable way to increase physical activity and gain the health benefits of aerobic exercise.  However, swimmers may be at risk for certain illnesses that can be spread through contaminated water. Before going to the pool or beach, swimmers should be aware of the possibility of recreational water illnesses (RWIs).

Diarrhea is the most frequently reported RWI. The spread of diarrheal RWIs starts with contamination of the water. Swimmers then can get sick when they swallow small amounts of contaminated water. In settings like swimming pools, water parks, and hot tubs, water most often gets contaminated when a person who is ill with diarrhea or who is shedding germs that can cause diarrhea swims. In other settings, such as beaches, rivers, and lakes, germs can also come from other sources, like animals and runoff after a rainfall.

Viruses, bacteria, and parasites can cause RWIs.  Although chlorine in swimming pools kills most of these germs, it does not work immediately. Some germs, such as the parasite Cryptosporidium (Crypto) are especially resistant to chlorine and can remain a in the water as a risk to swimmers for a long period of time. The number of cases and outbreaks of Crypto have increased in recent years. For these reasons, it is important that everyone takes a few important steps to prevent the spread of Crypto and other RWIs.​

A Few Simple and Effective Prevention Steps We Can All Take:

·          Stay out of the water if you have diarrhea.

·          Shower before you get in the water.

·          Don’t pee or poop in the water.

·          Don’t swallow the water.

Every hour—everyone out!

·          Take kids on bathroom breaks.

·          Check diapers, and change them in a bathroom or diaper changing area—not poolside or near the water  to keep germs away from the water people swim in.

For more information:

1CDC: Healthy Swimming/Recreational Water​

CDC: Swimmer Protection: How to Swim Healthy 

Posters and other health promotion materials:

CDC: Healthy Swimming/Recreational Water Health Promotion Materials 

Six Steps for Healthy Swimming poster 

Idaho Recreational Water Illness Media Campaign –posters, brochures, PSAs

Utah Department of Health Cryptosporidiosis Educational Toolkit​

Disease specific fact sheets:

  E. coli O157:H7



  ​Swimming Related Illness

  Viral gastroenteritis

 ​ Vibrio

 Naegleria fowleri- Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis


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