Virginia Department of Health encourages everyone to ‘Swim Healthy. Stay Healthy’
The week leading up to Memorial Day is designated Healthy and Safe Swimming Week in Virginia and throughout the nation, putting focus on the steps everyone can take to have a healthy and safe swimming experience. Public pools and beaches around Virginia begin to open in late May, making this the ideal time to talk about ways to reduce the risk of recreational water-associated illness, drowning, and injury in our communities. Water is not only fun to play and cool off in, but just a few hours of water-based physical activity per week can offer low-impact health benefits for everyone!
“We each play a part in preventing illnesses and injuries linked to the water we share and swim in,” said Acting State Health Commissioner M. Norman Oliver, MD, MA. “As we head in to summer, I encourage everyone to take some time to learn about how to keep themselves and their families safe in the water so that we can all enjoy the health benefits of Virginia’s pools, beaches and natural waters.”
Pools, Spas, and Waterparks
From 2000-2014, there were approximately 500 outbreaks nationally linked to swimming pools, hot tubs/spas and water playgrounds. Most of the outbreaks were caused by the germs Cryptosporidium, Legionella, or Pseudomonas.
Water illnesses in the pool are spread through:
- swallowing water,
- inhaled through cooling mists,
- hot tubs jets which force water droplets into the air, or
- in water play areas such as splash pads and interactive fountains.
Cryptosporidium is a microscopic parasite that can cause gastrointestinal illness. It can survive a week in properly chlorinated pools. Legionella and Pseudomonas live in biofilm or slime, which protects them so they may grow even when the bromine or chlorine concentrations are properly maintained. Lungs can get infected with Legionella when breathing in contaminated water droplets produced by hot tub/spa jets. Water contaminated with Pseudomonas can cause “hot tub rash” on exposed skin or “swimmers’ ear” in the external ear canal.
Disinfectants do not kill all germs immediately. Germs that aren’t easily killed by chlorine or live in biofilm can cause outbreaks. Disinfectants are important for maintaining pool water quality. It is equally important to use precautions when using and storing these potentially toxic chemicals. In the US, more than 3,000 emergency room visits are from incorrect use of pool chemicals each year.
Here’s how you can reduce illnesses and injuries in and around the pool:
- Don’t swim or let your kids swim if sick with diarrhea.
- Practice proper personal hygiene.
- Don’t swallow the water.
- Every hour take kids on bathroom breaks. Change diapers in the restroom, not poolside, to keep germs away from the pool.
- Read and follow directions on pool chemical product labels.
- Wear appropriate safety equipment (goggles, for example) when handling pool chemicals.
- Secure pool chemicals to protect people, particularly children and animals, from accidental exposure.
- NEVER add pool chemicals when the pool is in use, and only add them poolside when directed by the product label.
For other helpful tips and a chemical pool safety guide, visit www.SwimHealthyVA.com.
Safely Recreate in Virginia’s Natural Waters
Natural bodies of water such as lakes, rivers, and oceans are home to diverse organisms. This includes germs and potentially harmful algae.
Gastrointestinal illness is the most common type of illness caused by germs. Symptoms include:
- vomiting, or
Algae is naturally occurring in natural waters. Algae can ‘bloom’ when they become too abundant. Most types of algae are not harmful. Some algae produce toxins which can make you sick, they can cause:
- skin irritation,
- diarrhea and stomach pain,
- and numbness or tingling.
Other symptoms associated with recreational water illnesses may include:
- eye, skin, or respiratory irritation, and
- ear, wound, and urinary tract infections.
If water is muddy, stagnant, fowl-smelling, or is a strange color you should avoid contact. When in doubt, stay out! Other tips for swimming safe in natural waterways include:
- Look for beach advisory signs along public access points or along the beach. Many public beaches in Virginia are monitored for bacteria levels. An advisory is posted if these levels are too high. If the beach is under advisory, stay out of the water.
- All natural bodies of water contain bacteria, including salt water. Salty water will not disinfect wounds. If you have broken skin, stay out of the water.
- Hold your nose or use nose clips when taking part in freshwater recreational activities.
- Avoid swimming in natural waters for at least three days after heavy rain.
- Don’t swim when you are sick. You can spread germs in the water and make other people sick.
- Avoid getting water up your nose. Use a nose clip or plug your nose before going under the water.
- If you become sick after being in the water, report your water activities to your doctor.
- Shower with soap and water before and after swimming. Wash pets off after they swim too.
- Keep children and pets from swimming in scummy water. If you see mats of algae or discolored green, red, or brown water, an algae bloom may be present.
- Report harmful algal blooms (HAB) or large groups of dead fish to the HAB Hotline at:
- 888-238-6154 or Submit an online report.
Safe Swimming for Smart Swimming
Every day, two children under 14 years old die from drowning. Drowning is the leading cause of injury and death for children ages 1-4 years. To keep swimmers safe in the water:
- Make sure everyone knows how to swim.
- Use life jackets and wear them appropriately.
- Provide continuous attentive supervision near swimmers.
- Know CPR. Find a class near you.
- Use sunscreen. Apply sunscreen before applying insect repellent.
- Install and maintain barriers like 4-sided fencing and weight-bearing pool covers.
- Use locks or alarms for pool access points.
For more information on staying healthy and safe in and around the water this summer, visit www.SwimHealthyVA.com