Splash Into Clean Water

Recreational Water Illness and Injury Prevention Week campaign shows how to keep the water clean

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) The summertime heat sends many of us looking for a place to take a nice, cool dip. As you prepare to swim in pools, lakes and oceans, be mindful of what's in the water and how people can contaminate these places. 

As part of Recreational Water Illness and Injury (RWII) Prevention Week from May 20-26, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is shedding light on the illnesses with its "How We Swimmers Contaminate Pools" campaign.

The CDC has several tips for swimmers and pool operators to ensure a safe and healthy swimming experience.

"Keep swimming water clean by being clean."

Recreational water illnesses are caused by germs spread through swallowing, breathing in mists and odors or having contact with contaminated water in swimming pools, hot tubs, water play areas, interactive fountains and water parks.

Illnesses can also occur when people are exposed to contaminated rivers, lakes and oceans. These illnesses can involve the gastrointestinal tract, skin, eyes, ears, respiratory system, neurologic system and wound infections.

Diarrhea is the most commonly reported recreational water illness. Other illnesses include swimmer's ear, head lice and hot tub rash, in which itchy spots on the skin become a bumpy red rash with pus-filled blisters around hair follicles.

Crypto (short for Cryptosporidium) is one of several germs that cause diarrhea and is the leading cause of swimming pool-related diarrhea outbreaks. The number of reported Crypto cases increased over 200 percent from 3,411 cases in 2004 to 10,500 cases in 2008.

The bacterium can stay alive for several days and tolerates chlorine even in well-maintained pools. Most germs, however, are not tolerant of chlorine. Be that as it may, 1 in 8 public pool inspections in 2010 resulted in pools being closed due to code violations such as improper chlorine levels.

When at the pool, the CDC recommends looking for the following:

  • Clean and clear pool water (the bottom of the pool and any painted stripes should be visible)
  • Smooth pool sides that are not sticky or slippery
  • No odor – a strong chemical smell is a sign of a maintenance problem
  • Working pool equipment – pool filtration systems and pumps should be heard

Healthy swimming behaviors include the following:

  • Not swallowing pool water or getting it into your mouth
  • Washing hands after using the toilet or changing diapers, and taking a shower before swimming
  • Avoiding the pool if you have diarrhea

For kids, families should keep in mind the following:

  • Frequent bathroom breaks and diaper checks every 30 to 60 minutes
  • Keeping an eye on children at all times
  • Not to use air-filled swimming aids in place of life jackets or life preservers
  • Changing diapers in a bathroom and not poolside

To kill germs most effectively, swimming pools should have 1 to 3 milligrams per liter or parts per million (ppm) of chlorine and a pH of 7.2 to 7.8. Hot tubs and spas should have 2 to 4 ppm of chlorine or 4 to 6 ppm of bromine, and a pH of 7.2 to 7.8.

The week before Memorial Day was designated the RWII awareness week almost a decade ago.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 22, 2013
Last Updated:
August 22, 2013