The heat is on, and a cooling plunge in the pool or at the beach is just what you need. Summer means hours of fun in the water for you and the family, but that water – including swimming pools, water parks, lakes, bays, and oceans - can sometimes make you sick if you are not careful. Just remember - swimmers not only share the water with everyone else who jumps in, but also all the germs in it. Luckily, with the proper precautions, you can enjoy your time in the water without worrying about potential sickness!

You play an important role in making sure that your family enjoys a fun day of healthy swimming. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest a few simple steps that will help you enjoy your day at the pool or the beach:

  • Shower before and after going into a swimming pool.
  • Stay out of the water if you have diarrhea. You might spread germs and make other people sick.
  • Avoid getting water in your mouth, and try not to swallow pool water.
  • Check pool water yourself using test strips.
  • Avoid swimming or playing near places where storm water is released on the beach.
  • Stay out of the water for at least 24 hours after a storm.
  • Always wash your hands before you eat or drink.

Recreational waters can get contaminated with bacteria and viruses that can lead to stomach and other intestinal problems, often with vomiting or diarrhea. They can also cause infections, eye irritation, and respiratory issues. These reactions can also be caused by chemicals found in the water. However, you may not realize that swimming is what caused these ailments, as it can take one to three days before any symptoms appear. Most of these illnesses go away in a few days, but they certainly take the fun out of a day in the sun or a family vacation.

Unfortunately, even if you swim in a well-cared for swimming pool or water play area, you still should not disregard these concerns. Proper maintenance and chlorination are important, but the National Institutes of Health stresses that chlorine does not kill all germs right away. The time it takes to kill different germs varies. That is why it is important for all swimmers to keep germs out of the water in the first place - by showering before getting into the water!

Other favorite summertime swimming spots such as lakes, rivers, and oceans, can also become contaminated by sewage spills, animal waste, and storm water runoff. Rain water that flows over lawns and farms can carry fertilizer and bacteria from animal waste. That water and its contaminants then find their way into drains, streams, rivers, bays, and eventually the ocean. Some bacteria also appear naturally in many coastal waters.

Fortunately, health departments regularly test public beaches for contamination. They look for certain types of bacteria, including those that are common in sewage. If the bacterial count is higher than recommended levels, health departments will close the beach until the water is clean again. Be sure to check the beach posting signs to make sure it is safe to go in the water!

If you're taking the plunge this summer, be sure to follow these tips so that you help keep yourself and others healthy!

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