NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Memorial Day is the traditional opening day of many public pools in Tennessee and the unofficial start of swimming season. While swimming is a fun way to be physically active, recreational water can also hold viruses and bacteria that cause illness. The Tennessee Department of Health joins in the annual observance of National Recreational Water Illness and Injury Prevention Week May 21-27 to help make sure residents and visitors have a safe and healthy swimming season.
“We want Tennessee families to enjoy time spent in pools, lakes and other bodies of water, and practice simple ways to reduce risks to health and safety,” said Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “Taking proper precautions such as having babies wear leak-proof diapers and never letting children swim without supervision helps prevent injuries and illnesses that can be spread in water.”
Recreational Water Illness
Recreational Water Illnesses, or RWIs, are caused by germs in the water that are spread to people by swallowing, breathing in vapors of, or having contact with contaminated water in swimming pools, water parks, hot tubs, fountains, lakes, rivers, springs, ponds or oceans. RWIs cause several types of health problems, including eye infections and irritation, hepatitis, wound infections, gastrointestinal illness, urinary tract infections, skin infections, respiratory illness, ear infections and even neurologic infections. The most commonly reported RWI is diarrhea. Germs on and in swimmers’ bodies end up in the water and can make other people sick. Even healthy swimmers can get sick from RWIs, but young children, elderly people, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems are especially at risk.
“We can protect ourselves by not swallowing water from pools, lakes, rivers and other swimming places. Taking steps to keep germs out of the pool in the first place is also a great way to prevent RWIs,” said Rand Carpenter, DVM, a TDH epidemiologist involved in waterborne disease surveillance. “Everyone can help keep our swimming areas safe this summer by following a few simple healthy swimming steps.”
Don’t swim if you have diarrhea.
Practice good hygiene. Shower with soap before swimming and wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers.
Take children on frequent bathroom breaks or check diapers often.
Change diapers in a bathroom or a diaper-changing area, not at poolside.
Illnesses and outbreaks associated with recreational water vary from year to year. Worldwide, 5,000 children under the age of five die each day from diseases acquired from unsafe water, according to World Health Organization estimates. In Tennessee in 2010, 14 people including four who were hospitalized were sickened in an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 associated with a community swimming pool. Illness caused by cryptosporidium and other waterborne pathogens has been on the rise in Tennessee and nationwide. Any illness or outbreak that is possibly caused by exposure to recreational water should be reported to your local health department.
Drowning prevention is important to remember when going swimming. In Tennessee in 2010, 88 people died from drowning, including 25 children. Near-drowning incidents leave many others with long-term consequences including memory problems, learning disabilities and other permanent impairments such as physical disability. To reduce the risk of drowning:
- Prepare by making sure:
- Everyone knows how to swim
- Older children and adults know CPR
- When in the water, keep swimmers safe by:
- Having younger and less capable swimmers use life jackets that fit
- Providing continuous, attentive supervision of swimmers even if there is a lifeguard
- Avoiding alcohol and drugs when swimming or watching swimmers
- Discouraging horseplay and stunts
- When NOT in the water, prevent access to the water by:
- Installing and maintaining barriers including fences and weight-bearing covers
- Using locks or alarms for windows and doors
Find more ways to prevent drowning, including specific tools for parents, online at www.cdc.gov/HomeandRecreationalSafety/Water-Safety/index.html.
For more information about healthy swimming, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Healthy Swimming website at www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/.
The mission of the Tennessee Department of Health is to protect, promote and improve the health and prosperity of those who live in, work in or visit Tennessee. For more information about TDH services and programs, visit http://health.state.tn.us/.