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Guide To Healthy Swimming

Part 2 of 3 - How Can People Be Affected?


Updated October 18, 2011

What is a person's chance of getting diarrhea when swimming?

An exact number does not exist.

If pools are properly maintained and chlorinated, the risk is thought to be low for germs that are killed easily by chlorine. However, over the past 10 years, more than 150 outbreaks involving thousands of people have been reported, involving pools, waterparks, hot tubs, spas, lakes, and rivers. Many outbreaks are never detected.

Why do many recreational water illnesses (RWIs) go undetected?

Because people do not think that pool water can make them sick.

It can take several weeks before the germs in the water cause illness, so people often don't connect their illness with swimming. In addition, because diarrhea is so common, most people don't seek medical attention for it, so outbreaks of illnesses often don't get reported to health departments.

The longer the time period between swimming and illness the less likely people are to think that they became sick from swimming. For all these reasons, many outbreaks go undetected.

Is it a good idea to swim when you have diarrhea?

No. You share the water with everyone in the pool, so swimming when ill with diarrhea can contaminate the water.

Stay out of water that is shared by others if you have diarrhea. Persons who swim while they have diarrhea threaten the health and well being of those sharing the water. This is true because recreational water illnesses (RWIs) are more easily spread when someone is experiencing diarrhea.

Should some people be more concerned than others about the spread of Crypto (short for Cryptosporidium)?

Yes. Every swimmer should be concerned, but those living with a compromised immune system should be even more concerned.

They should realize that accidentally swallowing Crypto-contaminated water can cause illness. Children, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems (such as those living with AIDS, those who have received an organ transplant, or those receiving certain types of chemotherapy) can suffer from more severe illness than others.

So people with compromised immune systems are at greater risk for developing severe or life-threatening illness?

Yes. If you are living with a compromised immune system (such as those living with AIDS, those who have received an organ transplant, or those receiving certain types of chemotherapy) you are at greater risk of developing severe or life-threatening illness if infected with Crypto (short for Cryptosporidium).

Recreational water illnesses (RWIs) can be spread by swallowing fecally contaminated water. Persons with compromised immune systems should be aware that swimming pools, waterparks, hot tubs, spas, decorative fountains, lakes, rivers, and salt water beaches might be contaminated with human or animal waste that contains Crypto.

According to the 1999 USPHS/IDSA Guidelines for Prevention of Opportunistic Infections in Persons with HIV, people with a compromised immune system should consult with their health care provider before participating in behaviors that place them at risk for illness. Avoid swallowing the water when swimming or playing in recreational water. For more information: Preventing Cryptosporidiosis

What should someone do if he or she has diarrhea?

Most important, prevent dehydration by drinking plenty of fluids.

This is especially important for young children, pregnant women, and persons living with compromised immune systems (such as those living with AIDS, those who have received and organ transplant, or those receiving certain types of chemotherapy).

Seek Medical Care Immediately If:

  • your diarrhea is bloody
  • your diarrhea does not resolve in 5 days
  • your diarrhea is accompanied by fever or chills
  • you are dehydrated. (signs of dehydration include: dry or "cottony" mouth, cracked lips, dry flushed skin, headache, irritability, not urinating at least four times a day, no tears when crying, no sweating, or confusion).
  • A health care provider may prescribe medicine to help replace the fluids your body has lost because of the diarrhea. In some cases, over-the-counter antidiarrheal medications slow the diarrhea.

    One of the germs that causes diarrhea is Crypto (short for Cryptosporidium). Health care providers do not routinely test for this germ. Therefore, persons experiencing diarrhea may have to ask their health care providers to test for Crypto. Be aware that there are many causes of diarrhea. A specific diagnosis can only be made by your health care provider.

    Remember, for the health and safety of those sharing the pool water, don't swim when you have diarrhea. Diarrhea can contaminate the pool and make people sick. For more information: Diarrhea

    Go On To Part 3 --- Guide To Healthy Swimming --->

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