Cone Health Telehealth

Beware of the Germs Lurking in Both Fresh and Salt Water

Kids playing in a pool in summerAn afternoon swim in the lake or a weekend at the beach may feel like the perfect way to beat the 90-degree heat of July and August. Unfortunately, you can encounter invisible microorganisms in the water that can lead to a number of health problems. These are commonly known as “recreational water illnesses”. These illnesses include diarrhea, ear infections, and skin infections.

The good news is there are convenient ways to get care for recreational water illnesses. You can also take steps to lower your chances of picking up an illness. Keep reading to learn more about these illnesses, how to avoid them, and when to see a doctor.

Water Sources Where Bacteria Can Be Found

Recreational water illnesses can occur in both fresh water and salt water. Natural sources of water can harbor bacteria from animals, water runoff after rain, and even sewage spills.

Bacteria that can cause illnesses can be found in:

  • Swimming pools
  • Hot tubs
  • Water parks
  • Splash parks
  • Lakes
  • Rivers
  • Oceans

Common Recreational Water Illnesses

Diarrhea is the most common illness caused by contaminated water. Germs such as crypto (short for Cryptosporidium), giardia, shigella, norovirus, and a type of E. coli can be picked up from both treated swimming areas and natural bodies of water. People with these infections often have stomach cramps and fever in addition to diarrhea. Some patients may require antibiotics to fight these infections.

Rashes from bacteria in the water can affect the arms, legs, torso, or entire body. Symptoms include small red bumps on the skin, blisters, and itching.

Ear infections, also called swimmer’s ear, may cause itchiness inside the ear, redness or swelling of the ear, pain when pressure is placed on the ear, or pus in the infected ear.

Lower Your Risk

To lower your risk of picking up a recreational water illness, follow these tips.

  • Do not swallow the water.
  • Dry your ears thoroughly after swimming or showering, using a towel and tilting your head on each side to allow water to escape the ear canal.
  • Do not swim or play in natural waters immediately after a heavy rain, as bacteria surrounding the area may have washed into the water.
  • Do not swim or play in waters near sewer pipes, discharge pipes, or storm drain outlets.
  • Do not swim if you have open wounds or sores.
  • Shower with soap and water after swimming or playing in the water.
  • Stay out of the water if you have diarrhea.
  • Shower before you get in the water.
  • Don’t pee in the pool!
  • Check diapers and change them in a bathroom or diaper-changing area — not poolside — to keep germs away from the pool.

Convenient 24/7 Care Online

If you suspect you or your family has contracted a recreational water illness, you can get fast, quality care from home. Cone Health Connected Care offers e-Visits through MyChart and phone and video doctor visits 24/7 for both children and adults. Board-certified doctors provide video and phone visits that include symptom assessment, an individualized treatment plan, and, if needed, a prescription will be sent to the pharmacy of your choice.

To get started, download the Cone Health Virtual Visit app from the App store or Google Play store, or register from your laptop.

Download Your Free eBook