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Thursday, June 30, 2016

Staying healthy while swimming takes just a few simple steps, health officials say

The Fourth of July holiday is expected to once again be a busy time for Minnesota's beaches and pools. State health officials are taking the opportunity to remind Minnesotans that we all have a role to play when it comes to keeping swimming healthy and fun.

"Germs in and on swimmers' bodies end up in the water and can make other people sick," said Trisha Robinson, Waterborne Diseases Unit Supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). "The best way to prevent recreational water illnesses is to keep germs out of the water in the first place."

Swimmers can protect themselves and others by following these simple steps:

  1. Stay out of the water if you have diarrhea.
  2. Shower before you get in the water.
  3. Don't swallow the water.

Between 2006 and 2015 in Minnesota, there were 42 reported outbreaks tied to recreational water, such as beaches, pools or splash pads, resulting in almost 700 illnesses. More than half of the waterborne outbreaks in the past 10 years were caused by the germ Cryptosporidium. It is a chlorine-resistant parasite that can survive and spread even in a properly maintained pool or splash pad.

The most common symptom of illness caused by germs in the water is diarrhea, which in some cases can be severe enough to result in hospitalization. Symptoms may not develop until a week or more after swimming.

"Swimming is a healthy, fun summertime activity," Robinson said. "We each need to do our part to keep the water healthy for everyone to enjoy."

With warmer water temperatures, swimmers should also be aware of a rare but serious risk. The organism Naegleria fowleriis an ameba commonly found in freshwater and soil. It causes a very rare but nearly always fatal brain infection. The organism infects people by entering the body through the nose. Generally, this occurs when people do activities such as swimming and diving in warm freshwater, like lakes and rivers.

The only sure way to prevent infection from Naegleria due to swimming is to avoid water-related activities in warm freshwater. To reduce your risk:

  1. Avoid warm freshwater when the water temperature is high and the water level is low.
  2. Avoid putting your head under water.
  3. Hold your nose shut or use nose clips.
  4. Avoid digging or stirring up the sediment in shallow, warm freshwater areas.

"There's nothing better than summer in Minnesota," said Robinson. "Following these simple steps can help ensure it's safe and healthy as well as fun."

For more information about healthy swimming, visit MDH's Waterborne Illness webpage.

To report a suspected waterborne illness, call the MDH Foodborne and Waterborne Illness Hotline at 1-877-FOODILL (or 651-201-5655 from the Twin Cities). 

-MDH-

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