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University of Iowa News Release

June 20, 2006

Swimmers Need To Be Aware Of Recreational Water Illnesses

Swimming pools are a great way to stay active and stay cool during the hot summer months.

Pool water, however, can sometimes be a source of more that just good, clean fun. Germs like Cryptosporidium, Giardia, pathogenic E. coli and Shigella can contaminate swimming water, even if it is treated with chlorine, and increase the chance of illness.

Swallowing, breathing or having contact with contaminated water in swimming pools - whether at municipal pools, water parks or at home - can cause recreational water illnesses (RWIs). The germs that cause RWIs are present in water that has been contaminated with fecal matter. Pools are contaminated when a person with diarrhea swims or has an "accident" in the water. Children can suffer more severe illness, if infected.

At public pools, it is important to be aware of the potential for contamination and risks for illness, said Nancy Hall, supervisor of environmental microbiology at the University of Iowa Hygienic Laboratory.

"Pool operators do the best job they can making sure the water quality is safe for swimming but the heat, sunlight and large numbers of swimmers on very hot summer days can affect this quality greatly," Hall said. "Swimmers and parents of young swimmers must do their part to keep harmful germs out of the pool."

At public pools, parents and children need to take steps to reduce the risk of spreading RWIs. Hall urges parents and swimmers to follow the six "PLEAS" recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (

-- Don't swim when you have diarrhea

-- Don't swallow the pool water

-- Practice good hygiene

-- Take your kids on bathroom breaks or change diapers often

-- Change diapers in a bathroom and not at poolside

-- Wash your child thoroughly (especially the rear end) with soap and water before swimming

"Following CDC's six 'PLEAS' is critical in preventing the spread of recreational water illness to other individuals using the pool and to preventing the spread of illness into the community," Hall said.

Private, backyard pools also pose potential health risks. Pool owners need to monitor pH levels (the measure of the acids and alkalis in water), make sure their filtration systems are functioning properly and keep proper disinfection levels at all times, Hall said. She recommends that plastic baby pools be filled only with water that is fit to drink and should be drained after each use.

Hall also recommends that children be advised not to play in and around birdbaths, because this water could contain harmful microorganisms from bird feces and cause illness if accidentally swallowed.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5139 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

MEDIA CONTACT: David Pedersen, 319-335-8032,; Writer: Andrea Schreiber