Avoiding Bacteria in Lakes, Rivers and Oceans

Here's what you need to know to avoid swimming-related illnesses

(RxWiki News) Labor Day is just around the corner, and the summer heat is showing no signs of letting up. It's a tempting time to go swimming, but cool off from the heat responsibly.

A dip in a lake or river may sound refreshing, but make sure you check your surroundings before diving in. Recreational swimming or playing in unsafe water can put you and your loved ones at risk for illness.

Water may look clear and clean, but it can still be home to many types of microorganisms that can cause serious illnesses, such as diarrhea and certain types of infections. Germs like norovirus, Shigella, E. coli O157:H7, Giardia and Cryptosporidium are the main culprits when a fun day in the water is spoiled by an illness.

In addition, there have been some reported cases related to Naegleria fowleri, which infects the brain.

Stay out of the water if one or more of the following statements is true:

  • The beach is closed or an advisory is posted.
  • Heavy rain occurred recently.
  • A discharge pipe is in the vicinity.
  • You see dead fish or other animals in or near the water.
  • The water is discolored, smelly, foamy or scummy.
  • It is a marshy area where snails are commonly found.

Bringing children who are not potty-trained to pools, lakes and rivers for swimming is not recommended. Not only does it put them at risk for an infection, but they can also spread infections through the water.

Here are some additional tips to keep in mind when swimming in untreated water:

  • Use nose clips and keep your head above water level.
  • Avoid swallowing water.
  • After swimming, towel dry or shower as soon as possible.
  • Rinse off pets immediately.
  • Avoid swimming or allowing children to swim if you or they are sick with diarrhea.
  • Try to avoid swimming in shallow, poorly circulating or overcrowded untreated water.

Speak with your health care provider about any questions or concerns you may have.

Last Updated:
September 1, 2018