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How Swimmers Contaminate the Water
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How Swimmers Contaminate the Water

Recreational Water Illness and Injury Prevention

With proper safety precautions, water is fun and cool in the hot summer, and a great way to exercise—for everyone in the family. Every year, thousands of Americans get sick with recreational water illnesses (RWIs), which are caused by germs found in places where people swim or play in the water.

San Joaquin County Health Officer Dr. Karen Furst says, “RWIs include a wide variety of infections, such as gastrointestinal, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, wound and neurologic infections. The most commonly reported RWI is diarrhea.” RWIs can be caused by germs 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.

Have your eyes ever started to sting and turn red while you were swimming in a pool? Did you think it was because of the chlorine in the water? Have you ever walked into an indoor pool area, got a whiff of a strong chemical smell, and thought, “Wow, there’s a lot of chlorine in the pool?” It is not actually the chlorine. It is di‐ or tri‐chloramines. These chloramines form when chlorine combines with what washes off of swimmers’ bodies (e.g., urine, sweat, and personal care products). (These chloramines are different from mono‐chloramine, which is sometimes used to treat drinking water.) 

In addition to being a great way to have fun with family and friends, swimming is a good form of physical activity. However, healthy swimming depends on what swimmers bring into the pool — and what they keep out of it. Swimmers share the water they swim in, and each one needs to do their part to keep themselves, their families, and their friends healthy. To help protect yourself and other swimmers from germs, here are a few simple and effective steps all swimmers can take each time they swim:

  • Keep feces and urine out of the water.
   - Refrain from swimming when you have diarrhea.
   - Shower with soap before you start swimming.
   - Take a rinse shower before you get back into the water.
   - Take bathroom breaks every 60 minutes.

   - Wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers.

  • Avoid swallowing the water you swim and play in or even getting it in your mouth.

Parents of young children should take a few extra steps:

  • Take children on bathroom breaks every 60 minutes.
   - Change diapers in the bathroom or diaper‐changing area and not at poolside where germs can rinse into the water.

   - Thoroughly clean the diaper changing area.

  • REMEMBER, SAFETY… is always important:
       - Keep an eye on children at all times, kids can drown in seconds and in silence.
       - Avoid using air-filled swimming aids (such as “water wings”) with children in place of life jackets or life preservers.
       - Protect against sunburn by using a sunscreen with at least SPF 15 and both UVA and UVB protection, and be sure to re-apply it after swimming. 

These steps will help you minimize risk of illness or injury and maximize health benefits and pool enjoyment.
For more information about safe and healthy swimming, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website,

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