Make a Healthy Splash: Share the Fun, Not the Germs!

Monday, May 18, 2015 | 12:48pm

NASHVILLE – Many public pools in Tennessee and around the country open for the season on Memorial Day. While swimming is a fun way to be active and beat the heat, thousands of Americans get sick every year from germs found in pools and other swimming places. The Tennessee Department of Health joins the observance of Healthy and Safe Swimming Week May 18-24 to spread the word about helping keep swimming sites safe and healthy.

“We can all help keep our swimming areas safe by following a few easy steps,” said TDH Chief Medical Officer David Reagan, MD, PhD. “Taking precautions like showering before swimming and never letting children swim without supervision helps prevent illness and injuries.”

The theme for Healthy and Safe Swimming Week 2015 is Make a Healthy Splash: Share the Fun, Not the Germs! It focuses on the role of swimmers, site staff, pool owners and public health workers in preventing drowning, pool chemical injuries and outbreaks of illnesses. It also highlights the need for swimmers to be active in helping protect themselves and prevent the spread of germs.

Preventing Recreational Water Illness

Recreational Water Illnesses, or RWIs, are caused by germs spread to people by swallowing, breathing in vapors of, or having contact with contaminated water in swimming pools, water parks, hot tubs, fountains, lakes, rivers, springs, ponds or oceans. Germs on and in swimmers’ bodies end up in the water and can make other people sick. RWIs can also be caused by chemicals in the water or chemicals that evaporate from water and cause indoor air quality problems. RWIs cause several types of health problems including gastrointestinal illness; eye infections and irritation; hepatitis; wound infections; skin infections; respiratory illness; ear infections and even neurologic infections. Even healthy swimmers can get sick from RWIs, but young children, elderly people, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems are especially at risk.

Illnesses and outbreaks associated with recreational water vary from year to year. In Tennessee in 2010, 14 people including four who were hospitalized were sickened in an outbreak of E. coli O157:H7 associated with a community swimming pool. Illness caused by cryptosporidium and other waterborne pathogens has been on the rise in Tennessee and nationwide. Any illness or outbreak that may be caused by exposure to recreational water should be reported to your local health department.

“Taking steps to keep germs out of the pool is the best way to prevent RWIs,” said Deputy State Epidemiologist John Dunn, DVM, PhD. “Chlorine and other pool water treatments help but don’t kill germs instantly. A good way to protect ourselves is by not swallowing water from pools, lakes, rivers and other recreational water venues.”

Follow these tips to help prevent RWIs:

Don’t swim if you have diarrhea
Shower with soap before and after swimming
Wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers
Take children on frequent bathroom breaks or check diapers often
Check and change diapers in a bathroom or a diaper-changing area, not at poolside
Don’t swallow the water you swim in
Read and follow directions for pool chemical use and storage

Drowning Prevention

In Tennessee in 2014, 69 people died from drowning including 15 children*. Drowning is the top cause of injury death among children aged one to four nationwide and near-drowning incidents leave many others with long-term consequences including memory problems, learning disabilities and other permanent physical disability. Follow these tips to reduce the risk of drowning:

Make sure everyone knows how to swim
Use life jackets appropriately
Provide constant, attentive supervision close to swimmers, even if a lifeguard is present
Know CPR
Don’t use alcohol and drugs when swimming or watching swimmers
Discourage horseplay and stunts
Install and maintain barriers around pools including fences and weight-bearing covers
Use locks or alarms for windows and doors

For more information about healthy and safe swimming, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Healthy Swimming website