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Public pools provide best, safest swimming option

A message to swimmers from Citrus County Health Department:

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 city of Inverness runs the Whispering Pines Park pool, and Citrus County runs the pool at Bicentennial Park in Crystal River. There are also many motel and condominium pools where, as an approved guest, you could swim.

Public pools are safer because the water is disinfected and is free of infectious organisms such as bacteria, fungus and protozoa, the department says.

Not so with fresh water, especially, fresh water that does not flow, such as shallow lakes and ponds. In all waters of Florida there are some potentially harmful bacteria and possibly deadly amoebas.

One of the most infamous of these organisms is an amoeba named Naegleria. This amoeba caused a number of deaths in Florida, including a young Floral City boy in 1986. The Naegleria amoeba is common in Florida lakes, but increases profusely in the summer when the warmer inshore lake water and muck-covered sand bottoms provide an ideal site for amoebas. This unfortunately coincides with the peak bathing season.

The Naegleria infection is acquired when the amoeba enters the nasal passages. The Naegleria then colonizes the nasal passages, eventually extending along the olfactory nerves to the brain, causing meningoencephalitis. Due to the swiftness of onset (within 10 days) and the difficulty of accurate diagnosis by symptoms, this disease has a high fatality rate.

Being protozoa, the Naegleria organism is extremely difficult to detect in normal water sampling analysis but their presence is strongly linked to water with high bacteria counts.

Swimming in fresh water may cause a skin dermatitis, which may cause a skin rash with inflammation and itching. For those who enjoy aquatic sports, a "swimmers itch" problem can be eliminated by swimming in a private pool.

The best way to avoid water-borne disease is to take precautions before taking a dip to cool off in the local lake or river:

Swim only in permitted areas. These areas have shown bacteria levels consistently below state bathing area standards _ reducing the potential risk. These areas also have sanitary facilities, maintained grounds and, in some cases, lifeguards, increasing the potential for a safe and enjoyable swim.

Avoid bathing in any lake water after heavy rains. The heavy rains will cause a high nutrient input into the lake, increasing bacteria growth. These bacterial blooms are quickly exploited by lake microorganisms which also soar in numbers, increasing the risk of infection.

Avoid submerging the head in, or ingesting, lake water. Since most water-borne diseases invade the body through ingestion or nasal passages, keeping your head above water is an excellent defense. For this reason, horseplay and diving should be discouraged in the warmer inland waters. Toddlers and babies should be closely supervised to avoid inadvertent dunkings, splashing or drinking lake water.

To avoid a skin dermatitis, cover the body with suntan oil before entering the water. When leaving the water, shower immediately and towel dry vigorously.

Nose plugs, diving masks, etc., can also protect you from infection, but since the organisms are microscopic, these are not fail-safe.

Taking these few simple precautions, a cooling day at the lake or beach with family or friends can be enjoyed without taking home unwanted diseases or infections.

There are only two permitted bathing places to swim in our county: Hernando Beach and Fort Island Gulf Beach in Crystal River.

Editor's note: This public service article was provided by David Conrad, environmental supervisor II at the Citrus County Health Department, Environmental Health division. For more information, call 527-5283.