Water Wisdom

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Harvard Medical School
Chrome 2001
Chrome 2001

Water Wisdom

Healthy Lifestyle
Water Wisdom
Water Wisdom
Water Wisdom
Water can play host to disease-carrying organisms.
InteliHealth Medical Content

Reviewed by the Faculty of Harvard Medical School

Water Wisdom


Swimming pools, hot tubs and local lakes and beaches can be dangerous places, but not just because of the risk of drowning. Water can play host to disease-carrying organisms with such alien-sounding names as Cryptosporidium, E. coli and Shigella.


These small but potent bugs are rarely life-threatening, except to people with immune system disorders such as AIDS. Even if you don't fall into this category, exposure to these microorganisms can result in some unpleasant symptoms.
Most of these infections result in nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, but some waterborne illnesses can be much more serious.
All waterborne illnesses are transmitted through fecal matter — sometimes from wildlife or farm animals, but often from humans. Not a pretty thought, but increasingly a concern for the folks who run public swimming pools and water parks, with implications for any parent with a child still in diapers. A few pathogens in particular are linked to some serious outbreaks. 
There's probably no way to completely shield yourself from waterborne pathogens, but it is possible to minimize your exposure. Here's how:

1. Take those "no swimming" signs seriously. If your local health department has posted a particular swimming hole off limits, find another place to cool off.

2. Ask for records. Any public pool should have daily records on chlorination and how often the pool is cleaned and treated. If your local pool can't provide these records, don't swim there.

3. Keep your mouth closed. Try not to swallow the water while you swim, and tell your kids to do the same.

4. If you have a kiddy pool at home, change the water daily. Empty out the wading pool and leave it to dry overnight. When you have standing, still water, the risk of infection grows, and some of the microbes that multiply in standing water can cause serious illness.

5. Do your bit to prevent disease transmission. Take a shower before you use the local pool. If you have a child in diapers, consider swaddling his or her little rear end in specially made "swimming" diapers or plastic pants. And bear in mind that even these won't prevent all leakage.



Swimming Safety

Too many children younger than age 5 drown each year in residential swimming pools.

Here's how to safeguard your child:


  • Never leave toddlers alone near a pool.
  • Don't assume baby pools are safe. The American Red Cross reports that 15 percent of home drownings occur in wading pools, toilets, buckets and other small containers of water.
  • Fence the area around the pool, whether the pool is in-ground or above ground, and lock the gates.
  • Add an alarm system to your pool to notify you if someone enters the water when no one is there to supervise.
  • Learn cardiopulmonary resuscitation — in cases that call for resuscitation, seconds count when it comes to preventing death or permanent injury.


e. coli,diapers,pathogens,bacteria,contamination,diarrhea,immune
Last updated July 17, 2013

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