The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has designated the week before Memorial Day, May 19-25, as National Recreational Water Illness and Injury Prevention Week.

The focus is for the prevention of drowning, pool chemical injuries and outbreaks of illnesses.

As swimming season opens around the country, this is an ideal time to increase awareness about associated illness and injury and promote healthy and safe swimming.

We are sending you this brief educational update to encourage and support the CDC program.

Recreational water illnesses are caused by pathogens in contaminated swimming water. Diarrhea is the most common RWI, which is often caused by pathogens such as Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Shigella, E. coli O157: H7 and norovirus. 

The CDC reported 57 disease outbreaks linked to pools in the United States in the year from 2009-2010 (the most recent year for which national data are available).

Even when the levels of chlorine and other pool water treatments are well maintained, they do not kill germs instantly.

For example, Cryptosporidium, a common diarrheal pathogen and the leading cause of disease outbreaks linked to pools, can survive in properly chlorinated pools for more than 10 days. Almost half of these outbreaks were caused by Cryptosporidium, and they sickened more than 400 people.

Because pathogens can survive in a properly chlorinated pool, swimmer hygiene — including staying out of the water during a diarrheal illness — is especially important.

Just one diarrheal incident can release enough germs into the water that ingesting a mouthful can cause infection and diarrhea lasting two to three weeks.

Here are some simple and effective steps you can share with all swimmers in order to protect themselves and others from injury and the spread of illness-causing germs:

• Keep swimmers safe

• Learn to swim

• Wear life jackets appropriately

• Follow directions on pool product labels

• Wear appropriate safety equipment when handling chemicals

• Keep feces and urine out of the water

• Do not swim when you have diarrhea

• Shower with soap before you start swimming

• Take regular bathroom breaks

• Wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers

• Do not ingest swimming water

• Check for proper levels of chlorine

• Parents of young children should take a few extra steps:

• Take children on bathroom breaks every 60 minutes 

• Check diapers every 30-60 minutes

• Change diapers in the bathroom or diaper-changing area and not at poolside where germs can rinse into the water.

Sally Robinson is a clinical professor of pediatrics at UTMB Children’s Hospital, and Keith Bly is an associate professor of pediatrics and director of the UTMB Pediatric Urgent Care Clinics. This column isn’t intended to replace the advice of your child’s physician.

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