Water, Water, Everywhere, But Is It Safe to Swim?
It is a favorite summertime activity for all ages. In fact, swimming or relaxing in recreational water, such as swimming pools, water parks, hot tubs, lakes, rivers, or the ocean is one of the most popular activities in the country. However, swimmers can become affected by recreational water illnesses.
In swimming pools, parasites, bacteria, excessive chlorine, and indoor air irritants are the most common causes of recreational water illnesses. These germs enter the water primarily through fecal contamination. Exposure to these contaminants usually results in diarrhea. However, contaminated water may also cause skin rashes, ear infections (swimmer's ear), or respiratory infections.
And while it is true that chlorine does kill these germs, poor maintenance of chlorine levels and filtering systems may impact the effectiveness of chlorination. In addition, chlorine takes time to work, even in the best-maintained swimming facilities. Some parasites are highly resistant to chlorine and may continue to live for several days after a pool has been disinfected.
In lakes, rivers, and oceans, pollution by raw sewage is the largest culprit for water contamination with disease-causing organisms, such as bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and worms. And of course, open water is not chlorinated. This means that you should check with your local public health department or pollution control authorities regarding water quality at your favorite beach before you go. You can also check the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) beach monitoring and notification website at http://water.epa.gov/type/oceb/beaches/beaches_index.cfm.
Last reviewedMay 2014by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.