What to know to prevent recreation water illness (RWI)

There’s such a short time to enjoy the lakes in Michigan and you don’t want to spend your time fighting a recreational water illness (RWI) after you dry off. What is an RWI, you ask? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an RWI is spread by having contact with contaminated water, swallowing the water, or breathing in mists, like from indoor pools or hot tubs. It doesn’t matter if it’s a large commercial water park, your neighbor’s pool or any body of water, RWI’s can be lurking anywhere. 

What are the symptoms of RWI?

The most common sickness is diarrhea from Cryptosporidiosis, commonly known as Crypto, which is a diarrheal disease caused by microscopic parasites. It can live in our intestines or in animal intestines and is passed in the stool of an infected animal or person. Crypto can stay alive for days, even in the cleanest of pools. An RWI can also occur as a gastrointestinal, skin, ear, eye, respiratory, neurologic and wound infections. 

Before you dive In

You can drastically reduce your chance of getting an RWI with preventative measures like not ignoring the signs that say, “Shower before and after swimming.” The CDC says rinsing off in the shower for just one minute will remove most of the bad stuff. Pee, poop, sweat, blood, and dirt are the enemies. Keep them out of the water. Chlorine doesn’t kill every germ instantly. 

Here are nine other things to practice before making a splash.

  1. Don’t swallow the water and tell your kids not to either. Whether you are at the water park or the neighbor’s pool, all it takes is a little bit of contaminated water to make you sick.
  2. If you have diarrhea, don’t go swimming. Seems kind of obvious but really, don’t swim even if you’re feeling a bit better the same day you had it.
  3. If you have an open wound from surgery, an injury or even a piercing, don’t swim unless you have a waterproof bandage that really sticks to your skin in water.
  4. Don’t change diapers near the pool or other bodies of water. It’s gross and it can contaminate the water if something spills over. Wash your hands and the baby’s hands after changing the diaper.
  5. Make sure older kiddos take bathroom breaks so they don’t pee in the pool.
  6. The weather can serve as a gauge to when the water can have higher bacteria counts than usual. For example, bacteria tend to accumulate more on an extremely hot day or after a heavy rainfall.
  7. Hot tub rash is an RWI illness that presents as a bumpy, red and itchy rash, sometimes with pus-filed blisters around hair follicles. Shower before entering the tub and when you’re done taking a soak, remove your swimsuit and shower with soap and water. Be sure to wash your swimsuit before wearing it again.
  8. Swimmer’s ear (not to be confused with a middle ear infection kids usually get), is an infection in the outer ear canal caused by contaminated water in lakes or pools. Symptoms include itching, redness, pain, swelling, and pus draining from the ear. Wear a bathing cap, earplugs, or moldable silicone plugs to help keep water out. Once you’re out of the water, dry your ears thoroughly (never use a Q-tip in your ear canal) and tilt your head in each direction to encourage the water to drain.
  9. If you think you have a water-borne illness, call your local health department. They can identify and confirm an RWI and help prevent it from spreading to others.
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