Swimming With Germs: Know Your Risks

Swimming With Germs: Know Your Risks

Swimming has long been a popular, relaxing and fun summertime activity. Whether it be in a pool, ocean, lake or river, the enjoyment of cooling off from the sweltering heat comes with risks. Beyond the danger of the water and the threat of sunburn and over exhaustion, germs are swimming right along with you. Safe waters mean more than a lifeguard and a floatie when it comes to swimming without a care in the world.

Contaminated water is a real risk to swimmers and it can come from many sources. Swimming in a public pool is high on the list of causing water related ailments. Recreational Water Illnesses (RWI) are a prime concern for health officials in many areas, as well as for The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Although accidents, injuries and drownings do occur from swimming, diseases and viruses are much more common during the summer months. Swimming With Germs: Know Your RisksEvery cool, refreshing spot such as a pool, lake, ocean or river involves risks to the swimmer. Precautions, regular checks and proper maintenance are usually done throughout the summer months at various swimming holes, but there is never a guarantee of pure, clean water to swim in.

Even with private pools, chlorine and pH levels must be continuously monitored with diligence. The acidity of the water can affect the quality of the pool itself, as well as the reactions the swimmer may have to the water. An ideal reading of seven is desired, with ranges between 7.2 and 7.8 being acceptable. The pH level in a pool Swimming With Germs: Know Your Risksalso helps the chlorine do its job at controlling bacteria and germs.

People do stupid stuff in pools and there are many reasons to be concerned about water to swim in. Waterparks and resorts have their share of partiers and those who choose not to shower before swimming. This allows for variables in the water such as fecal material, open sores and possible vomit debris. This all contributes to contaminated water that is prone to causing disease. Some germs and viruses are immune even to the chlorine we have learned to count on.

Natural bodies of water have their own set of risks. Tree stumps and leaches in rivers and lakes, manufacturing pollution and fertilizer run-offs all add to the equation of healthy water in which to swim. Oceans are beautiful with their sandy beaches and blue skies, but the threat of rip-tides, currents, jellyfish and a possible shark could inhibit the experience. RWI are most certainly a threat when swimming in untreated water.

Swimming With Germs: Know Your RisksSome of the most popular swimming holes in the world are way beyond being over-crowded. Some Asian nations boast beautiful parks and swimming pools with only an inch or two to move in. Given people’s bad habits and many ignoring the rules, swimming pools in general can be contaminated. Babies without swimming diapers, women on their menstrual cycle, and dogs jumping in for fun, can muddy up the water in no time.

The most common RWI results in several weeks of diarrhea. It is usually caused by the Giardia Lamblia or Cryptosporidium parasite. Both are found worldwide and cause extreme discomfort for many weeks. Other viruses and germs such as E-Coli, Norovirus and Shigella can present risks in unsanitary swimming waters.

The key is to be aware and not swallow any type of swimming water. Germs are swimming right beside those who have fun in the water, but they can be dealt with by using common sense and a good pool boy.

By: Roanne FitzGibbon


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 


National Resources Defense Council  

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