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Swimming Illnesses: Part Two of Kelly’s In Depth Look into the Deep and Murky End of the Pool. By Kelly Banker, Our Deep Thinking Student.

For all my fans who have been anxiously waiting, here’s a riveting summary of swimming illnesses, as promised.

Recreational water illnesses

What am I talking about?  Recreational water illnesses (RWIs) include a wide variety of infections like diarrhea (the most common RWI), skin, ear, eye, respiratory, and wound infections. They are caused by bacteria in the water of pools, hot tubs, and water parks. Although these waters are chlorinated, there are certain types of bacteria which are resistant to chlorine and can survive for several days even in a well maintained pool. You could get sick just from swallowing a small amount of pool water. Here are some steps everyone should follow to keep pools clean and swimmers healthy:

  1. Shower before you swim (with soap!) and wash your hands after using the restroom or changing your childrens’ diapers. Bacteria from your body will end up in the pool.
  2. Don’t swallow the pool water. Just don’t.
  3. Don’t swim if you have diarrhea. Even the smallest particles of fecal matter still have higher bacterial counts than normal and could make everyone else sick if introduced to the pool.
  4. If you have young children, take them to the bathroom often and change diapers in the restroom away from the pool to avoid contamination.

Diarrhea caused by pool bacteria can develop up to a week after swimming. If you or your child gets diarrhea, be sure to drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Over-the-counter antidiarrheal medications will help but cases of persistent diarrhea (lasting for over 2 days) require a visit to your doctor.

For the curious, more information is available from the CDC here: http://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/swimming/rwi/

Swimmer’s Itch

Say what?  Maybe you haven’t heard of this one (or maybe it’s called lake itch or duck itch in these parts), but swimmer’s itch occurs commonly in fresh water lakes and ponds around mid to late summer when the weather is hot and sunny. It appears as a red, itchy raised rash beginning within 1-2 hours or as long as two days after swimming in contaminated water. Swimmer’s itch is known medically as cercarial dermatitis and is caused by parasites which normally live on snails or water birds. These parasites are unable to live on humans but may burrow into the skin and die, causing an allergic reaction. Poorly maintained hot tubs have also been known to cause rashes similar to swimmer’s itch.

That sounds gross–how can I avoid getting swimmer’s itch? Don’t swim in areas known to be contaminated with swimmer’s itch or in swampy areas where snails commonly live. Swim away from the shoreline if possible, and don’t stir up the mud around the shore. Don’t swim in areas where birds like to swim and don’t feed water fowl near swimming areas. Rinse off with clean water immediately after swimming and wash your swimsuit often.

I think I have swimmer’s itch! What do I do?  Although the itching is uncomfortable, swimmer’s itch usually goes away by itself. Try to avoid scratching, as you may cause an infection if you break the skin. Over-the-counter products such as hydrocortisone cream can help with the itching, as well as baking soda, Epsom salt, or oatmeal baths. Another easy home remedy for itching is to mix baking soda with water until it forms a paste and apply to the affected areas. Call your doctor if you have a rash lasting more than one week after swimming.

Spark your interest? http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/swimmers-itch/DS00902

I don’t mean for this information to be used as a scare tactic to keep everyone inside this summer. Swimming is a fun way to keep active during the summer months. Not one of these risks outweighs the benefits of the physical activity of swimming. So get out there and “just keep swimming.” (If you don’t get the reference, then there’s an important Disney movie starring a small orange fish that you should probably watch ASAP.)
-Kelly, the intern


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