RWI refers to any illness or infection caused by germ contaminated water in aquatic facilities such as pools, water playgrounds, hot tubs, spas, and natural waters such as lakes and rivers.
“No one who swims is completely immune from RWIs,” says Colin Johnson, Director of Environmental Health Division, Medina County Health Department. “Water bacteria can cause a number of infections,” Johnson continued “however, skin rashes, swimmer’s ear, and gastrointestinal bugs are the most common.”
The Center for Disease Control & Prevention reports that nearly 10,000 RWI cases of diarrhea and 2.4 million cases of swimmer’s ear occur each year.
In the summer of 1975, Jaws had beachgoers taking the advice of the movie’s tagline, “Don’t go in the water.” But unlike great white sharks that may lurk below the ocean’s surface, simple prevention methods as well as quick treatment can help keep RWIs at bay.
Know Thy Enemy
Diarrhea is caused when contaminated water is swallowed or is forced into the nose. Symptoms don’t necessarily appear immediately after a swim, but sometimes can occur up to two weeks later. The best way to prevent diarrhea is not to swallow water and avoid swimming if you do have diarrhea, as germs spread easily in the water and can quickly make other swimmers sick. Shower before swimming and wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers.
Swimmer’s ear, another waterborne infection, is caused when bacteria enters the ear canal. Swimmer’s ear usually causes one to two days of progressive ear pain which is sometimes worsened by chewing or pulling on the outer ear lobe. Diving, perspiration, high humidity, use of cotton swabs, hearing aids, or headphones can also increase the likelihood of this type of infection. The best ways to prevent swimmer’s ear is to dry your ears thoroughly by tilting your head to the side and tugging the ear lobe to let the water out after swimming. Wearing ear plugs, or swim caps pulled over your ears can also help prevent swimmer’s ear.
Swimmer’s itch, also called cercarial dermatitis, is marked by tingling, burning, or itching of the skin, small reddish pimples, and/or small blisters that appear within minutes to days after swimming in contaminated water. This skin rash is primarily caused by exposure to parasites or their larvae in fresh and salt water. Hot tub rash, another type of dermatitis, can occur within a few days of using poorly maintained hot tubs or spas. Generally, the skin becomes itchy and progresses to a bumpy, red rash that may become tender. Pus-filled blisters found near hair follicles may also appear. To reduce the risk of these skin rashes, change out of your swimsuit and shower with soap after getting out of the water.
An Ounce of Prevention
While it’s true that adding chlorine to a pool can kill disease-causing germs, it’s also important to note that some bacteria, like cryptosporidium, can survive for days in a properly disinfected pool.
One of the best ways to ensure a healthy splash this summer is to swim in safe waters that are well maintained and properly inspected by the local health department. The Medina County Health Department licenses all local public pools, spas, and special-use pools. A thorough inspection of each facility is conducted at least once a year, often times, twice a year. Every inspection includes water testing that ensures the safety and sanitation standards set by the State of Ohio are being met. Inspectors pay special attention to the water’s pH, disinfectant levels, total alkalinity, clarity, and temperature. To further ensure a healthy swimming environment, the Medina County Health Department educates public pool operators on how to properly test pool water and maintain their facility, making it “safe to go back in the water.”
For more information about healthy pools or our pool inspection program, visit us at www.medinahealth.org or contact us at (330) 723-9688 (option 3).
Since 1918, the Medina County Health Department has offered the community an array of programs and services that prevent disease, prolong life, assure a healthy environment, and promote the well being of Medina County citizens. Partially funded by local health tax levy, Medina County Health Department is a trusted source of health guidance for creating a healthy environment, healthy people, and a healthy community.