As temperatures rise, more and more people head to the lakes, rivers and pools to cool off in the summer. What they may not be aware of is the risk of waterborne viruses, parasites and bacteria lurking in the water.
According to a recently released report by the CDC, there is an increased risk of disease outbreaks associated with swimming in natural bodies of water such as lakes and rivers, during the summer months. Another CDC report showed 1 in 3 swimming related illnesses were related to hotel pools or hot tubs. By taking a few precautions, you can continue to enjoy the benefits of pools, lakes, waterparks and rivers and lower the chance of you getting sick.
What are some illnesses you can catch from swimming?
Pools and lakes are full of germs that can make you sick. Some of the common issues you can get from swimming in a lake or pool are diarrhea, skin rashes, respiratory illness and swimmers ear. People typically contract one of these illnesses when they accidentally ingest contaminated water. Lakes and rivers are untreated natural bodies of water, and can be contaminated with wastewater, sewage runoff, flooding or someone having an accident while swimming. This fosters bacteria, pathogens, and parasites.
Tips to avoid getting sick:
- Don’t swallow water — Swallowing even a little bit of water can make you sick. In pools, it’s also important to remember that chlorine doesn’t kill germs right away and there are some germs that can survive these chemicals.
- Shower and wash your hands — It’s important to rinse off before and after going swimming. Hand-washing is also important to keep in mind to make sure you don’t swallow any germs from your hand.
- Take bathroom breaks — Be sure to take your children for bathroom breaks and change diapers frequently when enjoying a day of swimming. You or your children should not go into the water if you have had diarrhea.
- Avoid swimming after heavy rains — Water after heavy rains or floods has a higher probability of being contaminated.
- Pay attention to the weather — Warmer days can cause bacteria to be higher in the water, so avoid swimming on these days.
- Keep ears dry — Try to keep your ears dry while swimming and dry ears thoroughly after swimming.
- Don’t swim with open wounds — Open wounds can increase the risk of contracting an illness.
What signs and symptoms should you look for?
- Flu-like symptoms
- Shortness of breath
- Watery diarrhea
- Stomach cramps
- Nausea and vomiting
- Ear pain
Keep in mind, there are some people that may develop more severe illness if exposed to germs while swimming in a pool; including those 50 years or older, current or former smokers, people with chronic lung disease, and people who have a weakened immune system. If you think you might have developed an illness after swimming, please contact a doctor.
About the author
Dr. Kristin Dean is a Family Practice Physician who received her undergraduate degree from the University of Florida in Nutritional Sciences. She continued her loyalty to the ‘Gator Nation’ and completed her medical school education at the University of Florida College of Medicine in 2010. Dr. Dean then moved to Los Angeles to complete her training in Family Medicine at Kaiser Permanente. Dr. Dean considers healthcare to be a team approach, with the patient being the captain of the healthcare team. Although she considers a healthy lifestyle to be the starting point for all healthcare plans, she uses medicine, empathy and education to continue to improve her patient’s health.