Swim safely in Summit County | SummitDaily.com

Swim safely in Summit County

Steve Prosise, REHS, Senior Environmental Health Specialist
Summit County Public Health

Swimming and other water-related activities are excellent ways to realize the health benefits of regular physical activity, as part of a healthy Summit County lifestyle. The week before Memorial Day (May 22–28) is National Healthy and Safe Swimming Week (HSSW). The goal of this observance is to raise awareness about healthy swimming behaviors, including ways to prevent recreational water illnesses (RWIs).

RWIs are caused by pathogens in the water. A person can contract an RWI by swallowing or breathing in the mists of contaminated water in swimming pools, water parks, hot tubs, interactive fountains, water play areas, lakes, rivers or oceans.

The theme of this year's Swimming Week is "Diarrhea and Swimming Don't Mix." Diarrheal incidents in recreational water can lead to outbreaks. Diarrhea and swimming definitely don't mix! Diarrhea is the most common symptom of recreational water illness (RWI). Swimmers who are sick with diarrhea—or who have been sick in the last two weeks—risk contaminating pool water with germs.

Diarrheal illnesses are caused by germs such as Cryptosporidium (Crypto), Giardia, Shigella, norovirus or E.coli. These germs can live from minutes to days in pools, even if the pool is well-maintained. Some germs are very tolerant to chlorine and were not known to cause human disease until recently. Once the pool has been contaminated, all it takes is for someone to swallow a small amount of pool water to become infected. Children, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems are most at risk for RWIs.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in the past two decades there has been a substantial increase in the number of RWI outbreaks associated with swimming. Nationally, Crypto has become the leading cause of swimming-pool-related outbreaks of diarrheal illness. From 2004 to 2008, reported Crypto cases increased from 3,411 to 10,5008. Also concerning, a 2010 CDC study found that one in eight public pool inspections resulted in pools being closed immediately due to serious code violations such as improper chlorine levels or pH.

The best way for you to prevent RWIs is to keep pathogens out of the pool in the first place. Follow these six steps for a safe and healthy swimming experience:

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Three Steps For All Swimmers

• Don't swim when you have diarrhea.

• Don't swallow pool water.

• Practice good hygiene. Shower with soap before swimming and wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers. Germs on your body end up in the water.

Three Steps for Parents of Young Children

• Take kids on bathroom breaks and check diapers often.

• Change diapers in a bathroom or a diaper-changing area and not at poolside.

• Wash your children thoroughly (especially the rear end) with soap and water before they go swimming.

The Summit County Environmental Health Department is responsible for ensuring that public and semi-public pools and spas are operated in a healthy way that prevents the spread of diseases, in accordance with the Colorado Pool & Spa Regulations. Although our staffing levels do not permit routine inspection of such facilities, staff review plans for new or extensively remodeled facilities and investigate all complaints received by the public.

Our complaint investigations focus on determining the following:

• Whether the pool or spa was the cause of illness

• Operational gaps that may have caused the illness (e.g., lack of disinfectant)

• Capacity of the operator for maintaining the facility

• Proper record keeping.

So, with summer right around the corner, Summit County Environmental Health encourages you to swim safely in Summit. For more information, visit SummitCountyCO.gov/414.