Did you know there are billions of germs floating in the water of community pools, splash pads, and other water venues? Pool chemicals kill most germs within minutes, but some live for days, especially in untreated water sources. The average swimmer introduces a number of dirty items into recreational water including hair, saliva, feces, urine, sweat, and many skin products such as lotions, cosmetics and soaps. The germs in the water can lead to illness in both adults and children.
For these reasons, the Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) encourages everyone to practice healthy swimming behaviors to prevent spreading germs and prevent your family from becoming sick as Oklahomans gear up for a summer of fun in the water.
The week prior to Memorial Day (May 21-27) is designated nationally as National Healthy and Safe Swimming Week.Healthy swimming behaviors can prevent recreational water illnesses (RWIs) such as Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Shigella, norovirus, and E. coli. RWIs are caused by swallowing or having contact with germs in contaminated water in swimming pools, hot tubs, water parks, water play areas, fountains, lakes, or rivers.These illnesses can also be caused by inhaling mists or aerosols from contaminated water. Symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, coughing, skin rash, and wound infections. RWIs can be prevented by taking simple precautions.
Healthy swimming behaviors include the following:
1. Stay out of the water if you have diarrhea. Germs spread in the water and make other people sick.
2. Shower before you get in the water.
3. Don’t pee or poop in the water.
4. Don’t swallow the water. Avoid getting water in your mouth to prevent swallowing germs.
5. Every hour – everyone out. Take kids on bathroom breaks. Wash hands with soap and water after changing diapers and using the toilet.
6. Diapered children: Children who are not yet toilet-trained should wear swim diapers in the pool and lake. Swim diapers & swim pants are not a substitute for frequent diaper changing and bathroom breaks. Check swim diapers and swim pants frequently, and change them away from the poolside. Wash your child thoroughly with soap and water before swimming, especially the diapered area.
7. Pool operators: Check the free chlorine level and pH before getting into the water.
Pools: Proper free chlorine levels of 1-3 mg/L or parts per million [ppm]and pH (7.2-7.8) levels maximize germ-killing power.
Hot tubs/spas: Proper disinfectant level of chlorine (2-4 parts per million) or bromine (4-6 ppm) and pH (7.2-7.8) maximize germ-killing power.
Swimming in a well maintained swimming pool will reduce your likelihood of developing an RWI as many of the germs are killed by chlorine.
Avoid swimming in a pool that has cloudy or off-colored water. If you cannot see the main bottom drain, stay out of the pool.
Harmful algal blooms are often present in Oklahoma lakes. These blooms can produce toxins resulting in illness in humans and animals. Direct contact with water containing the blooms can result in a skin rash; eye, ear and throat irritation; asthma-like symptoms; and diarrhea, vomiting, or abdominal cramps. Do not swim or participate in other recreational water activities where murkiness or mats due to blue, bright green, red, or brown algae appear in or on the water, or if the water has an unpleasant odor.
For more information regarding waterborne diseases and prevention, please visit: https://go.usa.gov/xN8Dn.