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Water safety: Do you know what you're diving into?

Ahh, hot weather. Time to hit the pool or the beach, dust off the water-skis ... freak out about killer parasites in ponds and lakes!?! Water safety involves so much more than knowing how to swim, critical as that first step is. Do you know how to protect against naegleria and vibrio infections? How to prevent the spread of RWIs, also known as recreational water illnesses? Prepare to dive in.

Recreational Water Illnesses (RWIs)

Illnesses can be spread by getting into in pools, hot tubs, rivers, oceans and lakes. The most common ailment? Diarrhea.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that swimmers with diarrhea carry germs that can contaminate the water, if they have an "accident."

Doesn't chlorine keep us safe? Yes, but it takes time. Chlorine in properly disinfected pools can kill most of the germs that cause RWIs in less than an hour, but some can survive for days.

So the CDC has three "pleas" for swimmers: Please don't swim when you have diarrhea. Please don't swallow pool water, and try not to get any in your mouth. Please practice good hygiene and wash your hands after using the toilets.

Here's another for parents:

Please change your tot's diapers away from the poolside, since the germs can spread to surfaces like decks.


Despite the big name, this parasite is tiny. It is usually found in lakes and ponds. And while very rare, the naegleria fowleri infection can be life-threatening. The risk of infection rises along with the temperature, and when water levels are low such as in the current drought.

The parasites enter the body through the nose, making their way to the brain. Symptoms can begin in one to 14 days and include headache, fever, nausea, vomiting and a stiff neck. Seek immediate medical attention if you develop any of these after swimming in fresh water. The disease can turn deadly in three to seven days.

The parasite lives in sand and silt, so avoid stirring it when swimming in shallow water. In fact, the Florida Department of Health advises that it's best not to take a plunge into warm, standing water. If you do, wear nose clips or keep your head out of the water.


Formally known as vibrio vulnificus, this bacterium comes from the same family as those that cause cholera. It lives in warm seawater.

It's best known for infecting people who eat contaminated seafood, particularly raw oysters, causing vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain in healthy people. The dangers are more severe for those with weakened immune systems.

The vibrio bacteria can also cause disease in people with open wounds who swim in warm seawater.

The CDC's message: Avoid swimming with open wounds if your immune system is compromised. And stay away from raw shellfish harvested from these waters.

Water safety: Do you know what you're diving into? 05/10/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 12, 2009 8:44am]
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