Friday, May 26, 2017

Summer Water and Swim Safety

Author: Dr. Raoult Ratard, State Epidemiologist

From the backyard or neighborhood pool, to the beach, local rivers, streams and lakes, Louisiana residents will begin flocking to the water beginning this Memorial Day weekend.

Before you dive in this summer, it’s important to know what may be lurking under the surface.

Swimming Pool Precautions
It’s a fact, pools are full of poop and pee. In the article, A Snapshot of Swimmer Hygiene Behavior, researchers found that 47 percent of those surveyed admitted to unhygienic behaviors in a public pool. Earlier this year, researchers at the University of Alberta found the average pool contained almost eight gallons of urine.

Germs found in swimming pools such as Cryptosporidium, or Crypto, are a health threat. Crypto is a parasite that can spread when someone swallows water that has been contaminated with the fecal matter of an infected swimmer. Crypto is the most common cause of diarrheal illness and outbreaks linked to swimming pools or water playgrounds. In addition to diarrhea, some people experience lack of appetite, nausea, vomiting, weight loss, stomach cramps or pain, and fever.

A recent survey, conducted on behalf of the Water Quality and Health Council, found that 1 in 4 adults say they would swim within one hour of having diarrhea, half of adults seldom or never shower before swimming, and three in five adults say they have swallowed pool water while swimming.

Although chlorine can destroy most germs found in swimming pools, it isn’t as effective when it comes to Crypto. That’s why all users of public pools should shower before swimming, not pee in the pool, and not use a pool for two weeks after having diarrhea.

Drowning Prevention
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that drowning is the leading cause of unintentional death for children ages one through four, with there being an annual average of 390 accidental drowning deaths in pools.

Drowning can be prevented by taking these steps:
  • Stay Alert: 60 percent of parents reported engaging in some type of distracted activity while their children swam in a pool, such as using a phone or tablet, reading a book, drinking alcohol, sleeping or leaving the pool altogether. Be sure there is a lifeguard or an adult water watcher nearby.
  • Stay Close: With young children, stay within an arm’s reach of your child at all times.
  • Stay Secure: Fence your Pool with a fence that is at least four feet tall. Install a gate alarm.
  • Stay Educated: Learn to swim, learn CPR, and teach your kids to swim.
Beach Safety
The Louisiana Department of Health runs a Beach Monitoring Program which tests water from 28 beaches and coastal waterways each week between April and October. If the testing shows high levels of bacteria, a swim advisory is issued to warn beachgoers not to swim until bacteria levels are safe.

An advisory is NOT a closure of the beach or its facilities, but an alert to the public about possible unhealthy water conditions. All areas will remain open for boating, fishing and land-based activities.

Local governments maintain swim advisory signs (shown here) that flip open to reveal the swim advisory and can be closed when there is not an advisory. 

In addition, the news media is alerted when bacterial levels are high at local beaches. You can find more information on the program and check the status of monitoring at the different beach locations here.

Rivers and Streams
The unfortunate reality is that many of Louisiana’s beautiful lakes, rivers and streams are contaminated with microorganisms, most of which occur naturally. They also might have contaminants that come from human and animal waste. These enter the water from sewage overflows, polluted storm water runoff, sewage treatment plant malfunctions, urban and rural runoff after it rains, boating wastes, malfunctioning individual sewage treatment systems and agricultural runoff.

Illnesses associated with poor water quality include sore throat, stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhea. Children, the elderly or people with weakened immune systems have a greater risk of getting sick when swimming in waters that harbor natural and man-made contaminants. Microorganisms can enter the body through the mouth, nose and ears, as well as through cuts and wounds. Therefore, swallowing the water or immersing one's head or wounds increases the risk of illness.

Each year, someone will die and others will become ill from an infection contracted after swimming in a natural water body. While Louisiana's Gulf waters, lakes and rivers are great places to enjoy the outdoors and cool off during summer, a water-borne infection can serve as a reminder to take precautions when swimming.

We encourage you to take proper precautions and enjoy the water safely this summer. 

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