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Vidyya, from the Sanskrit "vaidya," a practitioner who has come to understand the science of life.

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Back To Vidyya Parasitic Pathways - Swimming Pools/Recreational Water

Information For Parents & Swimmers

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about Recreational Waterborne Diseases


How can I get sick from swimming?

Swimming is communal bathing. When you are in the water you are bathing with everyone else in the pool, waterpark, hot tub, spa, lake, river, or ocean. Germs in contaminated water can get into your body if you accidentally swallow the water. They also can cause infection in your eyes, nose, ears, as well as in cuts and scrapes. Germs that get inside your body can make you very sick. Most of the diseases associated with swimming cause diarrhea and are contracted by swallowing contaminated water. A pool usually becomes contaminated with germs after someone has a "fecal accident" in the pool. These accidents may be in the form of watery diarrhea. Therefore they are not as easily noticed as a formed stool. Swimming pools, waterparks, hot tubs, and spas can also be contaminated by germs that are rinsed off swimmers' bottoms. In addition, lakes, rivers, and the ocean can become contaminated by sewage, animal waste, and waste water runoff.

For more information:

What kinds of diseases can I catch from swimming?

A variety of diarrheal diseases and other infections such as skin, ear, and respiratory infections have been linked to swimming. However, reports to CDC indicate that diarrhea is one of the most common illnesses associated with swimming. Diarrhea is spread when disease-causing germs from human or animal feces get into the water. You can get diarrhea by accidentally swallowing small amounts of water that contains these germs.

Can I get diarrhea from swimming in the ocean?

Yes. Diarrheal illness has been associated with swimming at marine beaches. Some common germs can live for long periods of time in salt water. Avoid swallowing the water.

Can I get sick from swimming in fresh water lakes and rivers?

Yes. Lakes and rivers can become contaminated by germs rinsed off the bottoms of swimmers, and from sewage, animal waste, and waste water runoff. Contact your state/local health department about germ testing results for local beaches. Do not swim in those areas that have been identified by health departments as unsafe.

Some germs that live in fresh water rarely infect humans. For example Naegleira (nuh-GLEER-e-uh) is a germ that is found worldwide. Naegleria can be found in warm, stagnant bodies of fresh water and can cause severe disease. To preven an infection by Naegleria, avoid swimming in small shallow ponds or areas posted "No Swimming." Do not swim in warm, stagnant, fresh water. Hold your nose or use nose plugs when jumping or diving into water. Click here more information on Naegleria.

Doesn't chlorine in the pool, hot tub, and spa kill all the germs?

No. Chlorine does not sterilize the water (make water germ free), but it does a good job of killing most germs. However, a few germs can survive normal pool, hot tub, and spa levels of chlorine for several hours to days. Chlorine must be maintained at proper levels to kill most germs. The high water temperature of hot tubs and spas may cause chlorine to evaporate faster. As a result, chlorine levels in hot tubs and spas needs to be checked more regularly than in swimming pools. Remember, even if you can smell the chlorine odor, pool, hot tub, and spa water is not germ free.

Can I get sick from using hot tubs and spas?

Yes. Skin infections are the most common infections spread through hot tubs and spas. The high water temperature of hot tubs and spas may cause chlorine levels to evaporate faster. As a result, chlorine in hot tubs and spas needs to be checked more regularly than in swimming pools.

Can I get diarrhea from playing and wading in ornamental water fountains?

Yes, if you swallow the water. Several diarrheal disease outbreaks have been associated with playing in ornamental water fountains. Not all ornamental water fountains are chlorinated and filtered. When people, especially diaper-aged children, play in or soak themselves with the water jets, they can contaminate the water. This may spread germs that can make people sick.

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Editor: Susan K. Boyer, RN
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