Past Two Decades Has Brought Rise in Recreational Water Illnesses  

Swimmers can play an active role in safeguarding themselves from outbreaks

JAMESTOWN, Ohio (May 11, 2015) - Summer signals a break from school and many of the viruses that seem to circulate during the winter, but that doesn’t mean the risk of illness is completely gone.

A trip to the neighborhood swimming pool can put individuals at risk for catching several forms of recreational water illnesses (RWI). The Centers for Disease Control and PreventionOff Site Icon (CDC) said there has been a significant increase in RWIs in the past two decades. RWIs – caused by germs spread by swallowing, breathing in mists or having contact with contaminated water – include a wide variety of infections, such as gastrointestinal, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic and wound infections. The most commonly reported RWI is diarrhea.

Since 2004, the CDC has seen a 200 percent increase in the diarrheal illnesses from swimming pool-related outbreaks in the United States. The best known source is Crypto, a germ that can stay alive for days even in well-maintained pools, the CDC said. It’s important that families understand the basic facts about RWIs so that they can keep themselves healthy, said Wes Halderman, MD, a physician with Jamestown Family Medicine.

“The first thing that is important to keep in mind is that this type of illness mainly affects those who are young, pregnant and those who have a weakened immune system,” said Dr. Halderman, who practices with Premier HealthNet. “The majority of infected people are going to get diarrhea for several days, but many individuals will have no symptoms at all because their body is able to fight it off.”

Those who think they have been infected with Crypto or any other germ from a swimming environment should seek medical help if the diarrhea symptoms continue to worsen or persists beyond seven days. Immunocompromised individuals should check with their physician at the onset of symptoms. Most importantly, parents should practice extreme caution if they suspect one of their young children have been infected. 

“If you have a child who has this illness and they continue to swim in the pool they could risk infecting the pool,” Dr. Halderman said. “It is extremely important that children stay out of pools for two weeks after becoming infected.”

RWIs are not limited to swimming pools. The germs that spread these illnesses can be present in hot tubs, water parks, water play areas, interactive fountains, lakes, rivers or oceans. Most of the germs, such as Crypto, have become resistant to most chemicals used in pools and are only killed through the use of high-potency disinfectants or boiling, the CDC said.

Crypto may be the most common RWI, but it is by no means the only one that affects individuals. Swimmer’s ear, a painful infection of the ear canal accounts for 2.4 million visits to the doctor’s office each year, the CDC said. Individuals can reduce their risk by making sure ears are dry, not removing wax and keeping objects out of the ear. Swimmer’s itch is also common and is a rash that develops after coming in contact with certain parasites that infect birds and fish. This can be avoided by not swimming in marshy areas, not attracting birds to areas where people are swimming and by showering and towel drying right after swimming.

Dr. Halderman said RWIs affect only a small percentage of swimmers each year and should not be a deterrent for enjoying water-based exercise. The CDC champions water-based exercise, which when done on a regular basis have been shown to play a significant role in helping to reduce chronic disease.  The CDC outlines the following steps that individuals can take to swim healthy.

Keep pee, poop and sweat out of the pool – Chlorine’s potency is often consumed with fighting off urine or sweat which leaves little of its power to fight off other germs in the pool. Eliminate sweat before entering the pool by taking a shower and making sure that the entire family has used the restroom. Be careful not to swallow pool water.

Take a break – The CDC recommends that individuals take a break from the pool every hour. Use this time to reapply sunscreen, hydrate with water and take children to the restroom. It also is a great time to change babies’ swim diapers, but be mindful not to do it poolside where germs can spread.

Check a pool’s maintenance – Many superstores and hardware stores sell pool test strips. Consider using this on private pools and don’t hesitate to ask management at public pools how often chlorine levels are checked. More information on proper chlorine levels can be found by going to

For more information on recreational water illnesses or to find a Premier HealthNet physician near you, visit

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