June 26, 2013
Take steps to prevent illness from swimming, health officials urge
Record number of waterborne outbreaks in 2012 included some from splash pads
The July Fourth holiday can be one of the busiest times for Minnesota's beaches and pools, and state health officials are reminding residents to "swim healthy" by taking steps to prevent recreational water illnesses this summer.
"We all share the water we swim in, and we each need to do our part to keep ourselves, our families, and our friends healthy," said Trisha Robinson, an epidemiologist specializing in waterborne diseases with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). "Germs on and in swimmers' bodies end up in the water and can make other people sick."
The best way to prevent recreational water illnesses is to keep germs out of the water in the first place. Swimmers can take an active role in protecting themselves and other swimmers by following these simple steps for a healthy swimming experience:
- Don't swim when you have diarrhea.
- Don't swallow pool or lake water.
- Practice good hygiene. Shower with soap before swimming.
- Wash your hands thoroughly after using the toilet or changing diapers.
- Take children on bathroom breaks or change diapers often.
- Change diapers in a bathroom, not at poolside or beachside.
In 2012, there were a record number of 11 recreational waterborne outbreaks in Minnesota, according to health department data. Minnesota's 2012 waterborne outbreaks resulted in almost 200 documented illnesses. All but 1 of the 11 recreational waterborne outbreaks were in treated waters. So it's clear that chlorinated water is no guarantee against being exposed to germs in the water. The best measure is for everyone to do their part to keep the germs out.
Also in 2012, investigators traced waterborne outbreaks to splash pads for the first time in Minnesota. There were two such outbreaks in the state. Splash pads have become increasingly popular with pool operators as they offer a way for small children to cool off without having to know how to swim. People may not realize that although there is no standing water, the spray water will rinse any contaminants such as diarrhea off of a person. But because many splash pads recirculate the water they use, just like the larger pools, they still pose a health risk if illness-causing germs enter the system. That's why it's important to follow healthy swimming behaviors when using splash pads, too.
Nine of the outbreaks in 2012 were caused by Cryptosporidium, one of the most common waterborne disease agents. It is a chlorine-resistant parasite that can survive and be transmitted even in a properly maintained pool. So practicing healthy swimming behaviors is especially important for preventing this illness. The most common symptom of recreational water illness is diarrhea, which frequently is severe enough to result in hospitalization. Symptoms may not begin until a week or more after swimming.
For more information about Healthy Swimming, see the MDH Recreational Water Illnesses Web page at http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/idepc/dtopics/waterborne/waterborne.html or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Healthy Swimming Web page at http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/.
To report a suspected waterborne illness, call the Minnesota Department of Health Foodborne and Waterborne Illness Hotline at 1-877-FOODILL (651-201-5655 from the Twin Cities).