This summer, you may find yourself taking a dip in a lake, river, ocean, or even a public pool. But before you dive in, it’s a good idea to take note of the possible environmental risks involved.
In fact, depending on the source, you could be putting yourself in danger of developing a recreational water illness. Here’s what you need to know before you take the plunge.
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A Common Concern: Recreational Water Illnesses
Recreational water illnesses are diseases caused by substances found in water, including bacteria and dangerous chemicals.
You can be exposed to these culprits by swallowing water, breathing in fumes or mists from it, or even simply coming in contact with it. Depending on the substance, it might be found in fresh water, saltwater, or chemically treated water (found in swimming pools, hot tubs, and water parks).
There are many kinds of recreational water illnesses, which can cause gastrointestinal, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, nerve, and wound infections.
According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, diarrhea is the most common recreational water illness. Contrary to popular belief, chlorine doesn’t kill all germs — in fact, a common cause of diarrhea, Cryptosporidium, is tolerant to chlorine. That means you could get sick if you ingest pool water that contains this bacteria.
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Preventing Illness in the Water
The prevalence of recreational water illnesses doesn’t mean that you should stay out of the water altogether. Follow these tips to stay safe and reduce your risk of sickness:
- Check it out. Visually assess the water you’ll be entering and make note of any obvious contaminants. Public pools should have a visible drain and drain cover in place.
- Test it. If it’s your pool or hot tub, use test strips to ensure that the water is correct: The pH should be between 7.2 to 7.8. The free chlorine concentration should be at least 3 ppm, and the free bromine concentration should be at least 4 ppm.
- Keep it clean. Shower before you enter the water and stay out if you have diarrhea, any wounds, or other infections. If you have children, have them take regular bathroom breaks. Change babies’ diapers as necessary.
- Don’t open up. Avoid swallowing water when you’re swimming or playing in water.
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