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Water Illnesses: Things to Consider before Making Splash

PHOTO: With swimming season gearing up, state health leaders are advising Illinoisans about the dangers of recreational water illnesses, and ways to prevent them. Photo credit: tat/Morguefile.
PHOTO: With swimming season gearing up, state health leaders are advising Illinoisans about the dangers of recreational water illnesses, and ways to prevent them. Photo credit: tat/Morguefile.
May 18, 2015

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Pools are opening up around Illinois this week, but health experts say there are some things to keep in mind before making a splash. Besides the threat of drowning, swimming can be hazardous due to diseases commonly called recreational water illnesses, or RWI's.

Justin DeWitt, chief engineer with the Illinois Department of Public Health, says RWI's are mostly associated with gastrointestinal illness and are caused by bacteria in natural bodies of water and swimming pools.

"Those bacteria are shed from either animals or humans who have the bacteria in their stomach," says DeWitt. "Then that gets introduced into the water and then others ingest that and come down with the same illness."

DeWitt says there are precautions swimmers should take to avoid the spread of RWI's, including showering before entering the pool, taking regular restroom breaks, avoiding swallowing water and staying away if you have been recently ill.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there has been a substantial increase in the number of outbreaks associated with swimming in the past two decades.

Chlorine sanitizes water and kills bacteria, but DeWitt says it's only so effective.

"If there's a release of bacteria into the water the chlorine just doesn't immediately kill all of that, it takes a certain amount of time," he says. "If you are in the vicinity of that and happen to ingest some of that water it's likely the chlorine hasn't had time to do its job."

The overuse of chlorine is also cause for concern because DeWitt says it can cause skin irritation or breathing difficulties. He adds if the water is not clear, or there is a strong smell of chlorine that could indicate something is not right and the pool operator should be contacted.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL