Maine CDC urges germ-free swimming

Posted May 25, 2010, at 10 p.m.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention says Mainers should be careful this summer when swimming and playing in and around pools and other shared recreational water supplies.

Infections and other illnesses may be spread by swallowing water, breathing in mists or aerosols, or having skin contact with contaminated water in swimming pools, water parks, hot tubs, play fountains, splash pads, lakes, rivers and oceans, according to the Maine CDC.

In 2005 and 2006, sickness associated with contaminated recreational water affected 4,412 people nationwide, according to the U.S Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Although few outbreaks have been reported recently in Maine, it is important to prevent outbreaks from occurring,” the state epidemiologist, Dr. Stephen Sears, said in a press release on Tuesday. “Cases of diseases transmitted by exposure to contaminated water have been increasing in the past few years.”

For example, Sears said, cryptosporidiosis has risen from 30 cases in Maine in 2005 to 67 cases in 2009. It is caused by a parasite, and symptoms include diarrhea, stomach cramps, fever and dehydration.

The best way to prevent outbreaks is to keep germs out of recreational water in the first place. The Maine CDC recommends following these six steps for a safe swimming experience:

- People with diarrhea should not swim or play in the water.

- Do not swallow the water.

- Practice good hygiene by showering with soap before swimming and washing hands after using the toilet or changing diapers.

- Take children on frequent bathroom breaks and check diapers often.

- Change diapers in a bathroom or a diaper-changing area.

- Wash children thoroughly, especially the rear end, with soap and water before they go swimming.

In swimming pools and hot tubs, maintaining recommended disinfectant levels and pH levels is essential to stopping the spread of germs.

The most common symptoms of illness caused by shared use of recreational waters are stomach upset and diarrhea. Individuals experiencing these symptoms after swimming should contact their health care providers.

Children, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems are more likely to suffer from severe illness if infected.

On the Web: www.mainepublichealth.gov/healthyswimming.

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