Summer is at its peak. Some children may be in the middle of their summer break, while some are just about to start. With the constant high temperature, summer has been dubbed as the pool season. Recreational swimming has been a favorite activity of families during summer as a means to beat the heat. Some would head over to their favorite beach spots, while some opt to dip in swimming pools or play with their children in a water park. Summer is also a popular time to enroll children in swimming classes. As fun as it may be, certain risks are also present in engaging in these activities.
There are illnesses associated with recreational swimming. These illnesses are broadly categorized as Recreational Water Illnesses (RWI). According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, RWIs are caused by germs and chemicals present in the water we swim. These germs can be spread through swallowing, breathing in mists or aerosols, or having contact with contaminated water in swimming pools, water parks, interactive fountains, hot tubs, rivers, lakes, or oceans. The chemicals present in the water, or those that turn into gas in the air are also causes of RWIs.
Swimming pools are a large and exposed body of water that can easily be contaminated. It is shared by many people, which exposes us more to many health risks. It is the medium in which an illness can be transmitted. Infections include but not limited to skin, ear, eye, respiratory, and gastrointestinal.
TYPES OF WATER RECREATION
Swimming pools, water parks, interactive fountains
The most common recreational water illness is diarrhea. Swallowing even a small amount of water that has been contaminated with fecal matter can cause diarrhea. Many people share swimming pools, and so does the germs in them. Stools of a person with diarrheal infection contain millions of germs, which can contaminate a pool. Fecal residues in people’s bottoms can also be rinsed off in pools. Accumulating small amounts of these residues can also contaminate a large a body of water.
Water parks and interactive fountains have water systems that recycle the water being sprayed. Some water fountains do not use chlorinated or filtered water. When children, most especially toddlers who are not yet potty-trained play with them, there is a high chance of water contamination.
Hot tub rash and respiratory illnesses can be caused by using improperly maintained hot tubs and spas. Because of the higher temperatures, it is harder to maintain optimal disinfectant levels in them.
Rivers, lakes, and oceans
These bodies of water are contaminated with germs from animal waste, water pollution, sewage spills, fecal incidents, water runoff after rainfall and fecal germs rinsed off from people swimming in them. Because these natural bodies of water are not disinfected by chlorine, chances are higher in contracting RWIs. Some germs live longer periods of time in salt water.
SOME OF THE ILLNESSES CAUSED BY RECREATIONAL SWIMMING ARE:
Contact with contaminated water can cause or worsen a skin disease one may be predisposed to. These diseases are contact dermatitis, atopic dermatitis, swimmer’s itch or Cercarial dermatitis, and wound infections.
Ear, Eye, Nose
Chlorinated or contaminated water can cause outer ear infection (swimmer’s ear) or middle ear infection, rhinitis, sinusitis, conjunctivitis.
Inhaling mists of chlorinated water most especially in indoor pools which causes poor indoor air quality can cause or trigger asthma, bronchitis, pharyngitis, laryngitis.
Diarrheal illnesses caused by ingesting contaminated water are gastroenteritis, hepatitis, enterocolitis, parasitic intestinal worm infection.
E.Coli and Shigella are bacteria found in feces. Ingesting them causes mild diarrhea to sever bloody stools. Cryptosporidium parasites can also cause diarrhea for as long as two to three weeks. These parasites can survive for days even in well-maintained pools. Giardia parasite lives in intestines and passed on through one’s feces. When infected with giardiasis, one may suffer from diarrhea, cramps and dehydration. Viruses such as Norovirus is highly contagious that causes intestines to get inflamed which in turn causes stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting.
Can chlorine kill germs that cause recreational water illnesses?
Chlorine can kill almost all germs that causes RWIs, however, different types of germs require different amount of time to kill. Most germs are killed within an hour of chlorine treatment, but some parasites such as Cryptosporidium are tolerant to chlorine. It can survive for several days even in well-maintained pools.
How to prevent catching recreational water illnesses?
Knowing the risks of recreational bathing helps us make better decisions for our family, making these activities much enjoyable without the nasty aftereffects. Since children, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune system are easy targets of RWIs, it is better to consult their corresponding healthcare provider before engaging in these water activities.
- To protect us as well as others in the pool, shower before and after you get in the water. Showering before you get in will help remove some germs that are on the surface of our skin, therefore preventing the spread of these germs when in the pool. This goes the same with after swimming. Take a shower and scrub off the chlorine from your skin. This will remove chlorine residues and the germs you might have picked up from the pool.
- Before getting in the water, check the pool’s latest inspection results. Checking the chlorine and pH level of the water will help you determine the quality of the water.
- Do not swallow the water. Ingesting is the most common way of getting gastrointestinal illnesses.
- Recreational swimming may be a fun way to bond with family and friends. Staying out of the water if you are sick especially if you have diarrheal infection is the best way to prevent spreading this disease. Of course, due diligence in observing proper hygiene practices will also prevent the spread of these germs.
- Do not pee or poop in the water. For parents, take kids to bathroom breaks during swimming time. Check diapers of babies and toddlers from time to time and change in designated changing areas away from the pool.
- Dry ears thoroughly with towel after swimming. For swimmers who spend more time in the water, wear earplugs to prevent ear infection.
7. Lastly, choose the time and place to swim. If the swimming pool is congested at a certain time, try scheduling on an earlier or later time. Choose pools or beaches that are not too crowded. Also, avoid swimming after rainfalls or areas identified as unsafe by health departments.