Press Release
May 20, 2013
Melaney Arnold (217) 558-0500

Swimming Season How to Avoid Water Illnesses

Think Healthy! Be Healthy! Swim Healthy!

SPRINGFIELD – As pools and beaches begin to open for the Memorial Day weekend, Dr. LaMar Hasbrouck, state public health director, is reminding people how to avoid getting sick while swimming. May 20-26, 2013 is Recreational Water Illness and Injury (RWII) Prevention Week. This year's theme is "How We Swimmers Contaminate Pools" and focuses on swimmer hygiene and the need for swimmers to take an active role in protecting themselves and preventing the spread of germs.

"While swimming is a great source of exercise, if you are not careful, you may end up sick," said Dr. Hasbrouck. "You can get sick from germs floating in lakes, rivers and even swimming pools. Take the time during Recreational Water Illness and Injury Prevention Week to learn how to avoid illness and help prevent others from becoming ill, before you jump in the water."

Every year, thousands of Americans get sick with recreational water illnesses (RWIs), which are caused by germs found in places where we swim. Illnesses can be 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. If someone with diarrhea contaminates the water, swallowing the water can make you sick. Most germs in swimming pools 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.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a study last week showing 58 percent of water samples collected from pool filters at public pools tested positive for E. coli, bacteria normally found in the human feces.

In the past two decades, there has been a substantial increase in the number of RWI outbreaks associated with swimming, according to the CDC. Crypto, which can stay alive for days even in well-maintained pools, has become the leading cause of swimming pool-related outbreaks of diarrheal illness. From 2004 to 2008, reported Crypto cases increased more than 200 percent (from 3,411 cases in 2004 to 10,500 cases in 2008).

The best way to prevent RWIs is to keep germs out of the water in the first place. Follow these six steps to help protect yourself and others from illness.

  • Don't swim within 14 days of having diarrhea.
  • Don't swallow pool water.
  • Practice good hygiene. Shower with soap before swimming and wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers. Germs on your body end up in the water.
  • Take your kids on bathroom breaks or check diapers often. All children who are not toilet-trained must wear swim diapers.
  • Change diapers in a bathroom or a diaper-changing area and not poolside.
  • Wash your children thoroughly (especially the rear end) with soap and water before they go swimming.

Swimming in lakes and rivers can also lead to illness. The most frequent sources of disease-causing microorganisms are from sewage overflows, polluted storm water runoff, sewage treatment plant malfunctions, boating wastes and malfunctioning septic systems. Pollution in beach water is often much higher during, and immediately after, rainstorms because water draining into the beach may be carrying sewage from overflowing sewage treatment systems. Rainwater also flows to beaches after running off lawns, farms, streets, construction sites, and other urban areas, picking up animal waste, fertilizer, pesticides, trash and many other pollutants.

  • Avoid swimming after a heavy rain.
  • Look for storm drains (pipes that drain polluted water from streets) along the beach. Don't swim near them.
  • Look for trash and other signs of pollution such as oil slicks in the water. These kinds of pollutants may indicate the presence of disease-causing microorganisms.

To help 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. To check about beach closures, advisories and test results, go to the Illinois BeachGuard System.

For more information about recreational water illness prevention visit Swimming Pools and Spas.

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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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