Recreational Water Illness

kid playing at a splashpad

Recreational water is the water we fish, boat, play, swim or wade in.  There are two types of recreational waters, treated and untreated. Accidental ingestion of both types of recreational water can lead to illness from exposure to pathogen or chemical contaminants. Treated recreational waters are those that undergo some type of water filtration and disinfection; such as in swimming pools, hot tubs, amusement or water parks, splash pads and interactive fountains. Untreated recreational waters include springs, streams, ponds, lakes, rivers, or oceans. These water bodies naturally contain bacteria, viruses and parasites from the environment.

Some of the most common illnesses linked to recreational water are from parasites and bacteria including: Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Pseudomonas, Naeglaria. Skin infections have also been linked to recreational water.

Investigation Spotlight:

In 2014, we investigated an uncommon waterborne salmonellosis outbreak.  There was one risk factor in common to many of the cases -- having enjoyed water recreation at a splash pad.  The investigation lead to a state survey of water quality and patron behaviors at splash pads. 

In July 2017, we investigated a large outbreak of legionellosis linked to a hotel in Western Tennessee. A total of 92 ill people were identified and ill people were more likely to have spent time in or around the aquatics area (outdoor pool, hot tub). Water testing of the aquatics area identified the Legionella bacteria was present.

In 2018, a large outbreak involving multiple pathogens was investigated at an outdoor adventure company in Eastern Tennessee. Visitors to the facility had drank water from an untreated well and later become ill. Testing of the water identified E. coli and coliforms, which indicated contamination.