CHEYENNE — While splashing in the waters of Wyoming’s pools and lakes is a favorite activity for many families, swimmers should take steps to avoid catching or spreading recreational water illnesses that can take away their summertime fun.
When germs get into the water, they can cause diseases such as cryptosporidiosis, giardiasis and shigellosis if swallowed. “With pools keep in mind you and your family are sharing the water, and any germs that may be present, with every other swimmer,” said Tiffany Lupcho, epidemiologist with the Wyoming Department of Health. “When someone has diarrhea, their poop can contain millions of germs. Just one person with diarrhea can contaminate an entire pool and you can become ill if you swallow a tiny amount of pool water with germs.
“Some of these germs are very tolerant to chlorine and might not be killed right away,” Lupcho said. For example, cryptosporidium, the leading cause of disease outbreaks caused by pools, can live in chlorinated water for more than 10 days. Lupcho said these germs are also common in untreated water such as hot springs, lakes, rivers and streams. Natural bodies of water and reservoirs can be contaminated with germs from sewage spills, animal waste and water runoff after it rains.
With an incidence rate six times higher than the national rate in 2013, cryptosporidium has been a serious concern in Wyoming. Last year, Campbell County experienced an outbreak of cryptosporidiosis with 121 reported cases, which made up 72 percent of reported statewide cases. Many people who were sick likely became ill from swallowing water contaminated with cryptosporidium while swimming.
Symptoms of these diseases in humans can occur days to weeks after exposure and include active diarrhea, stomach cramping, nausea and loss of appetite.
“It is crucial to prevent germs from getting into pools and lakes in the first place,” Lupcho says. “By not swimming in a pool or other body of water when you have diarrhea, and by showering before getting into the pool, you can help keep germs out of swimming water,” Lupcho said.
Simple steps swimmers can take to help protect themselves and others include:
· Avoid swimming on days when you are experiencing diarrhea. Germs can spread into the water and make others sick.
· Don’t swallow the water you are swimming in and avoid getting water into your mouth.
· Practice good hygiene. Shower with soap before swimming and wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers. Germs on the body can end up in the water.
· Parents of young children should remember to:
o Wash children before swimming (especially their rear ends).
o Check diapers every 30–60 minutes. Change diapers in a bathroom or a diaper-changing area and not poolside. Germs can spread in and around the pool.
o Take children to the bathroom every 30–60 minutes. Waiting to hear “I have to go,” may mean it’s too late.
For more information about healthy swimming, visit www.cdc.gov/healthyswimming/.