Press Release

May 27, 2005



SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – With summer fast approaching, Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, state public health director, today reminded Illinoisans to take precautions while swimming in order to prevent disease and accidents.

“When people swim in pools, spas, lakes or rivers, they share the same water,” Dr. Whitaker said. “If someone is ill, he or she can contaminate the water and make others sick. Swimming can be hazardous due to the numerous diseases that may be transmitted by contaminated water. There is also a potential for accidents.”

The most common type of illness reported is diarrhea, which is spread by swallowing contaminated water. If someone with diarrhea contaminates the water, swallowing the water can make people sick.

Swimming in water contaminated with germs also can cause infections in your eyes, nose, ears and in cuts and scrapes. Skin infections are the most common illness spread through hot tubs and spas.

Other potential hazards include falls on wet surfaces and diving accidents. “You will have more fun at the beach or pool if you know what potential health hazards to avoid,” Dr. Whitaker said. “For example, you should swim only in pools in which water quality is properly maintained and avoid beaches littered with trash or other debris.”

At the pool, you should:

  • Look for obvious signs of cleanliness, including whether the water is clear and if you can see the bottom of the pool. Although it is impossible to tell if water is free of bacteria, the water should appear crystal clear, be continuously circulated and be maintained at a level that allows free overflow into the gutter or skimmer. There should be no strong odor of ammonia or chlorine.
  • Make sure drains are clear of debris and that drain covers are in place and secure.
  • Determine if a lifeguard is present, especially if children are with you. If no lifeguard is on duty, do not let children swim unless they are accompanied by a responsible adult who knows lifesaving techniques and first aid. No one should swim along, no matter how experienced a swimmer that person may be.

At the beach, you should:

  • Avoid swimming at beaches where there are large populations of ducks or geese. The waste produced by these birds causes high bacteria levels in the water.
  • Look for movement in the water; it helps keep the water clean. Do not swim in the stagnant or still water.
  • Look for a sandy – not muddy – beach that has a grassy or wooded area around it. Such areas reduce surface runoff into the swimming water.
  • Do not swim at any beach right after a heavy rain. Runoff following a heavy rain may result in a high bacteria count.
  • When diving at a beach, exercise extreme caution. Beach water is not as clear as water in a pool, so underwater obstructions may not be visible. If there is any doubt, do not dive.

At the spa or hot tub, you should:

  • Ensure that the water is not extremely hot, which is not safe. Soaking time should not exceed 10 to 15 minutes at temperatures between 98 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit. If you start to feel lightheaded or nauseated, get out of the water immediately.
  • Monitor or restrict small children from using a spa or hot tub, due to the heat and turbulent waters.
  • Verify that suction grate covers are in place to prevent entrapment. Do not submerge your head in the water. People with long hair should tie it up or wear a cap to avoid possible entrapment by the suction inlets.

To stop germs from causing illness:

  • Don’t swim when you have diarrhea. This is especially important for kids in diapers. Germs can be spread in the water and make others sick.
  • Don’t swallow the water and, if possible, avoid getting water in your mouth.
  • Practice good hygiene. Take a shower before swimming and wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers. Germs on your body end up in the water.
  • Take children on frequent bathroom breaks or check diapers often.
  • Change diapers in a bathroom and not at poolside.
  • Wash your child thoroughly with soap and water before swimming.
Diarrhea can last from a few days to weeks. If you have diarrhea, drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Seek immediate medical attention if you have any of the following symptoms:
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Diarrhea that does not resolve in five days
  • Diarrhea accompanied by fever or chills
  • Dehydration

In order to minimize the risks associated with swimming, the Illinois Department of Public Health requires the state’s 3,500 swimming pools and spas to meet water quality and safety standards. The Department enforces these rules and regulations through plan approvals and inspections.

To prevent illnesses associated with swimming at Illinois beaches, each licensed beach is inspected annually to determine that required safety features are in place and there are no sources of possible pollution such as sewage discharges. The Department also requires that each of the 335 licensed public beaches be sampled every two weeks to determine that bacterial levels in the water are within established limits.


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Illinois Department of Public Health
535 West Jefferson Street
Springfield, Illinois 62761
Phone 217-782-4977
Fax 217-782-3987
TTY 800-547-0466
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