Pool Resource Center

Recreational Water Illness

Though swimming is a popular sports activity with many health benefits, swimming-related illness in the US is on the rise. In a fun-filled reminder, experts show you how to keep your family healthy and safe when you get ‘In the Swim of Things’ this summer. The main culprit: a chlorine-resistant parasite known as Cryptosporidium.

From the CDC: “Recreational water illnesses (RWIs) are caused by germs and chemicals found in the water we swim in. They are spread by swallowing, breathing in mists or aerosols of, or having contact with contaminated water in swimming pools, hot tubs, water parks, water play areas, interactive fountains, lakes, rivers, or oceans. RWIs can also be caused by chemicals in the water or chemicals that turn into gas in the air and cause air quality problems at indoor aquatic facilities.”

RWIs can be spread through use of swimming pools, hot tubs, decorative water fountains, oceans, lakes, and rivers.

The most common illness spread through use of swimming pools is diarrhea. If swimmers are ill with diarrhea, the germs that they carry can contaminate the water if they have an “accident” in the pool. On average, people have about 0.14 grams of feces on their bottoms which, when rinsed off, can contaminate recreational water. When people are ill with diarrhea, their stool can contain millions of germs. Therefore, swimming when ill with diarrhea can easily contaminate large pools or waterparks. As a result, if someone swallows water that has been contaminated with feces, he/she may become sick. Many of these diarrhea-causing germs do not have to be swallowed in large amounts to cause illness. Remember that standing water is not necessary for RWIs to spread so even spray decks can become contaminated (the water is just in a collection tank underground) and spread illness. To ensure that most germs are killed, chlorine or other disinfectant levels and pH should be checked regularly as part of good pool operation.

Resources from the CDC

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