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Practical Health Tips For Swim Season

US residents make an estimated 360 million trips to various recreational water venues, while having access to over 8.1 million pools open for private or public use each year. Communal swimming often puts people at risk for contracting recreational water illnesses (RWI), raising the need for healthy and cautious swimming.

The third annual National Recreational Water Illness Prevention week, May 21-27, raised awareness among swimmers of common RWI. Dr. Eric E. Whitaker, Illinois Department of Public Health director, encourages healthy swimming habits that will help with prevention and protection throughout the season.

"Summer is just around the corner and many of us are looking forward to jumping in the pool, hitting a water park or going to the beach. But you can get sick from the water if you are not careful," said Whitaker. "Now is the perfect time to learn what precautions to take to make sure you don't contaminate the water and learn how to possibly identify problems with the water."

Sixty two percent of RWI outbreaks are credited to the "chlorine-resistant pathogen," Cryptosporidium (Crypto), causing diarrhea. Chlorine kills most germs within an hour, but Crypto can survive for days in a properly maintained swimming area. Other than diarrhea, common infections are: gastrointestinal, skin, ear and eye; caused by Giardia, Shigella and Norovirus germs.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) encourages swimmers to follow hygiene habits that will increase protection against Crypto:

  • Don't swim if you have diarrhea, or have had it within the past two weeks;

  • Don't swallow the water and try not to have it enter your mouth;

  • Shower before and after swimming and make sure to wash your hands after each bathroom visit;

  • Have regular bathroom breaks for children; and

  • Change diapers only in designated areas and not by pool sides.

People most at risk for RWI are children, elderly, pregnant women and anyone with a weakened immune system. Other visual tips that can help in choosing a swimming venue include:

  • Clean and clear water; stripes painted on the bottom of the pool should be clearly visible;

  • Smooth pool sides; the tiles should not be slippery or sticky;

  • No odor; a strong chemical smell is an indication of a poorly maintained pool; and

  • Pool equipment working; pumps and filters should be heard and seen running.

For more information on waterborne illnesses and safety regulations, visit

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