With summer just around the corner, the Citrus County Health Department cautions residents to be careful where they swim.
"If you do not have access to a private swimming pool, the safest place to swim would be one of the approved public pools," the department wrote in a recent caution message. Those public pools are at Whispering Pines Park in Inverness and Bicentennial Park in Crystal River.
Guests or residents at local hotels and condominium complexes also can take a dip in those establishments' pools.
The problem with heading down to the "old swimming hole," the department notes, is that lakes, rivers and ponds might contain potentially harmful bacteria and deadly amoebae. Public bathing areas avoid this problem by disinfecting the water.
Some swimmers might dismiss such cautions. But the department reminds residents that some of the organisms can be deadly. In 1986, for example, a Floral City boy died after exposure to Naegleria, an amoeba that increases in volume each summer in the lakes and rivers popular with swimmers.
"The best way to avoid water-borne disease is to take precautions prior to taking a dip to cool off in the local lake or river," the department wrote in its message.
For one, use only a permitted bathing area where tests have shown that bacteria levels are consistently safe. For information on the safety of such sites, call the health department at 527-6400.
Another precaution: Avoid bathing in any lake after heavy rain. Rain leads to a high nutrient input, which in turn leads to rapid bacteria growth.
The department also recommends that swimmers avoid submersing their heads in lake water or ingesting that water. "Since most water-borne diseases invade the body through the ingestion or nasal passages, keeping your head above water is an excellent defense," the department wrote.
"For this reason, horseplay and diving should be discouraged in warmer inland waters. Toddlers and babies should be closely supervised to avoid inadvertent dunkings, splashing or hand-to-mouth introduction of lake water."
To avoid dermatitis, the department recommends swimmers cover their bodies with suntan oil before entering the water and then shower immediately after they emerge.