Recreational Water Illnesses (RWI) (cont.)
In this Article
- What are recreational water illnesses?
- Where are RWIs found?
- How are RWIs spread?
- Why doesn't chlorine kill these RWI germs?
- Who is most likely to get ill from an RWI?
- How can we prevent RWIs?
How are RWIs spread?
Keep in mind that you share the water with everyone else in the pool, lake, or ocean.
If swimmers are ill with diarrhea, the germs that they carry can contaminate the water if they have an "accident" in the pool. On average, people have about 0.14 grams of feces on their bottoms which, when rinsed off, can contaminate recreational water. When people are ill with diarrhea, their stool can contain millions of germs. Therefore, swimming when ill with diarrhea can easily contaminate large pools or waterparks. In addition, lakes, rivers, and the ocean can be contaminated by sewage spills, animal waste, and water runoff following rainfall. Some common germs can also live for long periods of time in salt water.
So, if someone swallows water that has been contaminated with feces, he/she may become sick. Many of these diarrhea-causing germs do not have to be swallowed in large amounts to cause illness.
Many other RWIs (skin, ear, eye, respiratory, neurologic, wound, and other infections) are caused by germs that live naturally in the environment (water, soil). In the pool or hot tub, if disinfectant is not maintained at the appropriate levels, these germs can increase to the point where they can cause illness when swimmers breathe or have contact with water containing these germs.
Why doesn't chlorine kill these RWI germs?
Chlorine in swimming pools does kill the germs that may make people sick, but it takes time. Chlorine in properly disinfected pools kills most germs that can cause RWIs in less than an hour. Chlorine takes longer to kill some germs such as Crypto, which can survive for days in even a properly disinfected pool. This means that without your help, illness can spread even in well-maintained pools.
Healthy swimming behaviors are needed to protect you and your family from RWIs and will help stop germs from getting in the pool.
Centers for Disease Control
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