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Recreational Water Illnesses

In the News: Several members of a youth organization began experiencing a variety of symptoms a few days after their group visited a public pool. Their symptoms included fever, vomiting, nausea, stomach cramps, and diarrhea. Eventually it was determined that they had all contracted Cryptosporidium, one of the most common recreational water illnesses, from swimming in the same contaminated pool. The pool was soon inspected and it was determined that the chlorine levels in the pool were at appropriate levels and that a chlorine resistant strain had entered the pool from a bather that did not shower before entering the pool.

What is a Recreational Water Illness?

Recreational water illnesses (RWIs) are caused by different types of germs found in pools, hot tubs, and water play areas. These germs can be spread by swallowing, inhaling, or coming into contact with contaminated water. RWIs can cause a wide variety skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic, and gastrointestinal illnesses. The most common RWIs are Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Shigella, norovirus, and E. Coli.

Preventing RWIs

Recreational water illnesses can be prevented by properly maintaining the chemical levels in your pool and making sure all swimmers bathe before entering the pool.Recreational Water Illnesses Some RWIs, however, can not be killed with chlorine. For instance, certain strains of Cryptosporidiumcan survive days in properly disinfected pools. This is why it is so important to educate all swimmers about the dangers of RWIs.

Safety Tips

Recreational water illnesses can come from a wide variety of sources, but the most common cause is fecal contamination of water. The average person has 0.14 grams of fecal matter on them and if this matter gets in the pool it can cause illnesses to all the other swimmers. However, following a few simple tips can greatly reduce this risk.


  • Do not swim if you have diarrhea: This may seem like a no brainer, but ask any aquatic director and they will tell you that this happens more than you think.
  • Bathe before and after swimming: This is one of the most important steps in protecting yourself and others from recreational water illnesses. Showering before you enter the pool can remove RWIs that may be on your body and keep them out of the pool. Showering after you swim will remove any RWIs that may have gotten on your body while in the pool.
  • Use good hygiene: Always wash your hands after going to the bathroom or changing diapers. Remember that anything on your body will enter the pool water once you enter and may infect you or someone else.
  • Don’t swallow pool water: While this may seem obvious to most, it is still important to remind swimmers the hazards of swallowing pool water, especially when it comes to little children. Also, splashing water into other peoples’ faces and dunking can lead to accidentally getting water into someone’s mouth, which is another reason why these activities should be discouraged.

Pool Operators and Staff:

  • Educate Staff: Make sure all lifeguards and pool staff are aware of the dangers RWIs pose and what they can do to prevent them.
  • Educate Swimmers: Inform all swimmers of your facility’s policies regarding water cleanliness and the dangers posed by RWIs.
  • Test and Maintain Water Frequently: Making sure your pool’s water is properly disinfected is the best way to ensure any contaminants that do enter the water are killed quickly.
  • Post Information: Having signs posted around your facility with your facility’s policy of showering before and after swimming and detailing the dangers of RWIs will remind members and guests to practice good hygiene.
  • Provide adequate hygiene facilities: Make sure there are enough showers, sinks, and hand sanitizing stations to provide swimmers with the chance to clean themselves before and after swimming.

Topics: Aquatics