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Is your family safe from recreational water illnesses?

Recreational water illnesses, also known as RWIs, are no picnic, despite the fact that "recreational" is part of the name. If your family is gearing up for a great summer spent in your swimming pool, learning the ins and outs of these illnesses as well as how to prevent them from showing up in your pool is crucial for a healthy swim season.

What are RWIs?
Recreational water, according to the Utah Department of Health, includes water in swimming pools, hot tubs, Jacuzzis, fountains, lakes, rivers, streams, ponds, garden hoses and sprinkler systems. RWIs are the result of bacteria, viruses or parasites that get into these water sources and make people sick.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that RWIs include a wide range of infections, which can affect all parts of the body, from the intestinal tract to the skin. The most commonly reported RWI is diarrhea, which is caused by germs like Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Shigella, norovirus and E. coli. Other common infections include Pseudomonas Dermatitis, also known as Hot Tub Rash, and Otitis Externa, which you might know as Swimmer's Ear.

How are they spread?
There are many ways that a recreational water source can get contaminated with an RWI. For example, people who swim while they're sick with diarrhea can contaminate a pool, as can animal waste and water runoff after rainfall, states the Minnesota Department of Health. If someone swallows water that's been contaminated, that person may get sick. Some RWIs are the result of germs that naturally live in the environment, which can cause problems in swimmers if their populations aren't kept under control with regular pool maintenance.

What are the symptoms?
If anyone in your family experiences diarrhea, vomiting, stomach cramps, loss of appetite, weight loss or fever after spending time in the pool, it's important to contact a healthcare provider and temporarily close off the pool to swimmers while you set u p pool repair. Skin, ear, eye and respiratory symptoms are also possibilities.

How can I prevent them in my pool?
Along with regular pool service and maintenance, there are some effective ways to ensure that your pool doesn't experience an RWI outbreak. First, make sure that people who are sick don't swim in your pool – especially if someone has diarrhea. Taking a shower before and after swimming is also a good way to wash away harmful germs. Be sure to clean babies and young children (particularly their rear ends) before they go for a swim, and make sure they're not swallowing water while they're splashing around. It's also smart to remind kids to take frequent bathroom breaks while swimming to prevent any accidents. As always, good hygiene in the form of thorough hand-washing is also important.