Waterborne Diseases

Recreational Waters

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Recreational water is any water in a river, lake, pond, swimming pool, hot tub, or ocean. Swallowing water that has been contaminated with pathogens can cause a waterborne illness. Water related activities are an excellent way to get physical exercise. However, recreational water can often become contaminated with pathogens that cause waterborne diseases. Proper hygiene is essential in reducing one's chances of acquiring a waterborne disease.

When someone is ill with diarrhea, their stool can contain millions of germs. Swimming in water can spread feces throughout the pool in a short amount of time. This means that just one person with diarrhea can easily contaminate the water in a large pool or water park. Swallowing even a small amount of recreational water that has been contaminated with feces containing germs can make you sick.

Recreational Water Illnesses

Waterborne illnesses can are often acquired from recreational water sources. Recreational water illnesses can be spread by swallowing, breathing in aerosols of, or coming into contact with contaminated water.

The illnesses can be caused by numerous pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, parasites, toxins, heavy metals, and other agents. The illnesses can cause gastrointestinal, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic and wound infections.

For more information on recreational water illnesses, please refer to CDC's Recreational Water Illness page.

Susceptibility

Anybody can acquire a recreational water illness if they ingest, breathe in, or come into contact with contaminated water. Children, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems can suffer from more severe illness if infected.

People with a weakened immune system should consult their health care provider before participating in activities that place them at risk for illness.

Prevention

It is important to avoid swallowing the water from a recreational water source because natural recreational water is not disinfected. Avoid swimming after rainfalls or in areas identified as unsafe by health departments.

Chlorine, while effective in reducing the amount of pathogens present in a water source, takes a lot of time to kill disease causing agents. The best way to prevent the spread of recreational water diseases is to make sure pathogens do not infect water sources.

To ensure the prevention of recreational water illnesses, CDC makes the following recommendations:

  1. Don't swim when you have diarrhea. You can spread germs in the water and make other people sick.
  2. Don't swallow the pool water. Avoid getting water in your mouth.
  3. 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.
  4. Take your kids on bathroom breaks or check diapers often. Waiting to hear "I have to go" may mean that it's too late.
  5. Change diapers in a bathroom or a diaper-changing area and not at poolside. Germs can spread in and around the pool.
  6. Wash your child thoroughly (especially the rear end) with soap and water before swimming. Invisible amounts of fecal matter can end up in the pool.