Video: How to Avoid Waterborne Illnesses

Get tips to hit the water, worry-free

Swimming pools may offer great exercise, but did you know they can also make you sick?

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According to the Centers for Disease Control, recreational water illnesses are caused by contaminated water in swimming pools, water parks, lakes, rivers or oceans. They can also be caused by chemicals in the water.

The good news is that the chances of getting sick in a pool have gone down over the years, according to Lara Danziger-Isakov, MD, a pediatric infectious disease physician at Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital.

“Getting sick in a pool is less likely than it used to be because people are very careful about that,” Dr. Danziger-Isakov says. “There are very strong regulations about how you have to have the water checked and things like that.”

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A common cause of waterborne disease among Americans is cryptosporidium, or “crypto,” a germ that causes diarrhea and can survive for days, even in properly chlorinated pools.

Another common problem that can cause pain and discomfort is swimmer’s ear, an infection of the outer-ear canal that develops when contaminated water sits in the ear canal for a long period of time.

Dr. Danziger-Isakov says you should never put pool water in your mouth. And she says to remember that chlorine kills germs, but things like sunlight, dirt and other swimmers can affect chlorine levels.

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“The amount of chlorine in a pool, even from a small gulp of water, won’t hurt anyone. At many of the public pools and I think people at home as well need to be very careful that they have the proper balance of chlorine in their pools.”

The CDC recommends staying out of the pool if you are sick with diarrhea and showering before and after swimming.


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