Press Release

May 21, 2008


State public health director warns of increasing number of people getting sick from swimming

May 19-25, 2008 National Recreational Water Illness Prevention Week  

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – As swimming pools, water parks and beaches prepare to open for the season this upcoming Memorial Day weekend, Dr. Damon T. Arnold, Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) Director is encouraging healthy swimming behaviors to prevent related illnesses during National Recreational Water Illness Awareness Week.

“This summer, swimming pools will be filled with millions of people having fun and staying cool. But germs may be in the water, even if it’s treated with chlorine. That’s why it is important to learn about recreational water illnesses, how they are spread and what you can do to protect yourself,” said Dr. Arnold.

Swimming is the second most popular recreational activity in the United States according do the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and it is the most popular activity for children. An average of five Cryptosporidium outbreaks were reported in 1995–2004. In 2006, 22 outbreaks were reported in the U.S. – three in Illinois.

Recreational water illnesses (RWIs) are caused by germs like Crypto (short for Cryptosporidium), Giardia, E. coli 0157:H7, and Shigella, and are spread by accidentally swallowing water that has been contaminated with fecal matter. You share the water with everyone in the pool. If someone with diarrhea contaminates the water, swallowing the water can make you sick. Most germs are killed by chlorine, but some germs, like Crypto, are resistant to chlorine and can live in pools for days. That is why even the best maintained pools can spread illnesses. Therefore, healthy swimming behaviors are needed to protect swimmers from RWIs and will help stop germs from getting in the pool in the first place. The following are six “PLEAs” that promote healthy swimming:

  • PLEASE don’t swim when you have diarrhea. This is especially important for kids in diapers. You can spread germs in the water and make other people sick.
  • PLEASE don’t swallow the pool water. In fact, avoid getting water in your mouth.
  • PLEASE 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.
  • PLEASE take your kids on bathroom breaks or change diapers often. Waiting to hear “I have to go” may mean that it’s too late.
  • PLEASE change diapers in a bathroom and not at poolside. Germs can spread to surfaces and objects in and around the pool and spread illness.
  • PLEASE wash your child thoroughly (especially the rear end) with soap and water before swimming. Everyone has invisible amounts of fecal matter on their bottoms that ends up in the pool.

Improper chemical balance in pools, water parks and spas can also cause illness and are often identified by burning eyes, nose and lungs. The following are things you can look for to prevent illness.

  • Clean and clear pool water; you should be able to clearly see any painted stripes and the bottom of the pool.
  • Smooth pool sides; tiles should not be sticky or slippery.
  • No odor; a well-chlorinated pool has little odor. A strong chemical smell indicates a maintenance problem.
  • Pool equipment working; you should hear pool pumps and filtration running and feel water coming into the pool from submerged inlets.
  • Skimmers or gutters should not be flooded, but have a thin layer of water running over the edge.

You can ask for water quality readings or check the pool water yourself for adequate chlorine (1-4 parts per million) and pH (7.2-7.8) levels. Chlorine and pH test strips are available at local home improvement stores, discount retailers and pool supply stores.

General safety precautions should also be taken when swimming such as wearing sunscreen and using caution on slick decks or near diving boards and water slides.

In order to minimize these risks, the Illinois Department of Public Health requires the state's 3,500 licensed swimming facilities to meet water quality and safety standards, including engineering design standards that apply to pools, spas, beaches, water supplies, bather preparation areas, and water treatment systems. The Department enforces these rules and regulations through plan approvals and inspections.

For more information about recreational water illness prevention visit or

idph online home
idph online home

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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