She Swims Safely at the Seashore (or Pool): Avoid Waterborne Diseases

Family relaxing on inflatable rafts in a swimming pool

Whether to stay in shape, relax, or just cool off, swimming is one of the best exercises around, because you work all muscle groups. Great for arthritis sufferers, you’re also buoyed by the water, which means less muscle and joint strain.

Learning how to swim through a trained and certified professional in swimming and water safety (at your own level and pace) can help replace any fear of the water with a healthy respect and love for it. The place to start is with a visit to for a state-by-state list of Learn-to-Swim Providers, as well as your local beach, community center, or parks and recreation department. You’ll find classes for everyone from six months old up to adult.

But whether you swim at a beach, lake, or pool (or visit the water slide), you need to keep waterborne diseases in mind — and know how to protect your family. Pathogens (microorganisms like bacteria, fungi, single-celled protozoa, plus viruses, and even worms) that can cause disease are found in places where we swim. Polluted runoff and untreated sewage (causing gastroenteritis, with all of the symptoms of a stomach flu), are often the culprits at beaches, as are trash or animal waste left behind.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) says that one in three swimming-related disease outbreaks occur in hotels. Microscopic parasites, like Cryptosporidium (or “Crypto”), cause about 80 percent of swimming pool illness outbreaks, through the feces of infected animals and people, according to the Water Quality and Health Council. Stubborn when it comes to chlorine (even in well-maintained pools), Crypto’s calling card, too, includes flu-like symptoms, but it can kill someone who has a compromised immune system. Pneumonia-causing bacteria, like Legionella, cause symptoms similar to the flu. Those over age 50, current or former smokers, those with chronic lung diseases, or an impaired immune system are most at risk. Another, called Pseudomonas, causes rashes and swimmer’s ear. Both of these bacteria can survive disinfectants in hot tubs, pools, and water playgrounds.

Help avoid a waterborne illness with these tips:

  • Observe and obey beach advisory, closure, or safety signs.
  • Avoid swimming near sewage discharge pipes.
  • Don’t swim at a city beach following a heavy rain.
  • Check water inspection scores online or on site before you swim.
  • Obtain a free pool test kit at to gauge chlorine and pH levels.
  • Shower before you swim (keep scents, sweat, or other trace elements out of the water).
  • Don’t swim when you’re sick (especially not with diarrhea), or with open wounds.
  • Never swallow water!
  • Keep your head above water.
  • If kids “gotta go”: Provide hourly bathroom breaks, and change diapers away from the swimming site.

See a doctor asap with headache, chills, fever, diarrhea, nausea, rash, stomach cramps, or vomiting after swimming!

By Lisa Miceli Feliciano

Sources include:,,


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